Monsanto Corporation, the world’s leading producer of agricultural chemicals and the people who brought you such environmentally friendly products as Roundup, NutraSweet, Bovine Growth Hormone and Agent Orange, wants to gouge a new open pit, mountain-top-removal mine just yards from the Blackfoot River… No, the other Blackfoot River. The one in southeastern Idaho. The Idaho Blackfoot River is situated just north of Soda Springs, Idaho and just east of Pocatello. It does have some similarities with the Montana Blackfoot River. According to the blog Fly Fishing Frenzy, the Idaho Blackfoot “can offer some of the best ‘Cutt’ fishing a river could offer“. In May, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality added Sheep Creek, a tributary to the Blackfoot, to its list of streams polluted by selenium. The state says that they now have 15 streams in the southeast that exceed selenium standards.
Monsanto wants to mine phosphate, which is the main component in it’s signature weed killer Roundup. There are some problems. Monsanto is already responsible polluting 17 sites in the region. Three of it’s former phosphate mines are now EPA-administered super fund sites and their current mine has been in violation of state and federal water-quality rules for seven years, polluting surface and groundwaters with selenium and other heavy metals. The company has never been able to find a way to stop the pollution. “The measures they have implemented aren’t working,” said Eva DeMaria, an EPA enforcement official in Seattle”. The mining permit for the Rasmussen mine requires that Monsanto leave no selenium pollution problems when they finish mining. So ““We have not finished our mining in that area, and our commitment is, we will be addressing these issues,” the company reports. Monsanto says they have learned their lesson and the new mine will be a high-tech, eco-friendly marvel. I wonder if they said the same thing about their other new mine seven years ago?
Monsanto has a heavy investment in the weed killer Roundup. They have developed a strain of “Roundup Ready” crops, which allow farmers to drench their soil with the herbicide without killing crops. Some farmers claim that over-dependence on herbicide-resistant chemicals could lead to an infestation of resistant weeds. Glyco-phosphate weed killers mostly show low toxicity to humans though there is a possible link to lymphoma in farm workers. However, fish and invertebrates are more sensitive to the chemicals. The company is also under attack from generic versions of the product although, Monsanto showed a profit of $256 million in the third quarter of 2008 with income from Roundup and other herbicides of $1 billion. The company must also now deal with more stringent environmental regulations following a large kill-off of sheep and horses in southeast Idaho in the 1990s due to selenium poisoning.
Bill Stout, a BLM geologist in Pocatello stated the obvious when he said “…problems sometimes occur despite the best intentions of his agency and mining companies“. I’m not really opposed to new mining if it is done correctly, but it seems that Monsanto has a responsibility to clean up one mess, or 17, before it moves on to creating new problems.
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