P4 Production LLC, a mining company wholly owned by agriculture biotechnology corporation Monsanto, has agreed to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty to settle alleged Clean Water Act violations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice have announced.
The company, which operates a mining and phosphate processing facility near Soda Springs in southeast Idaho, will also spend an estimated $875,000 on waste monitoring and water pollution prevention.
P4 allegedly discharged wastewater containing high concentrations of selenium and heavy metals from a waste rock dump at its South Rasmussen Mine without a required permit.
The company’s unpermitted discharges – which the EPA says contained selenium levels far above Idaho’s state water quality standards – allegedly polluted a nearby wetland and an unnamed tributary of Sheep Creek, as well as downstream waters that drain to the Snake River, according to the EPA’s complaint.
Phosphate mines in the area, including the South Rasmussen Mine, are known to contain high levels of selenium in their waste rock. Rainwater and weathering allow the selenium to leach from the waste rock piles and enter nearby surface water. Sheep, horse, and cattle deaths in southeast Idaho have been linked to selenium contamination of plants. Selenium in high concentrations can be toxic to a variety of fish and wildlife and is also known to bio-accumulate, and affect organisms in the aquatic food chain.
Monsanto uses phosphate from the South Rasmussen Mine to manufacture Roundup, a non-selective weed killer commonly used both domestically and commercially.
Under the terms of the consent decree, P4 will pay the United States $1.4 million. The company also agrees to:
- Continue collecting selenium-contaminated leachate from the waste rock pile and prevent it from entering nearby creeks and wetlands until such time as the company either obtains a permit, or it undertakes a restoration of the waste rock dump under another state or federal order.
- Perform downstream monitoring for a period of five years to ensure that selenium-contaminated water is no longer leaving the site.
The settlement is part of the EPA’s enforcement initiative to reduce pollution from mining and mineral processing operations. The agency says that these facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, and that this waste poses a serious risk to public health and the environment.