Alaska leads nation in toxic chemical releases

January 6, 2012 

Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY PHOTO

The gargantuan Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska is by far the leading releaser of toxic chemicals in the Environmental Protection Agency's northwest region, according to a recently released report. The mine produces mainly zinc and lead. And Alaska sources accounted for 90 percent of the releases documented in the four-state region, reports the Alaska Public Radio Network.

The 2010 Toxic Release Inventory shows a national increase from 2009 of 16 percent nationwide. The national trend had been dropping before that. Regionally, all Northwest states had increases. Alaska's increased 20 percent, producing a total of 835 million pounds from 32 facilities in the state.

Kelly Huynh is the Toxic Release Inventory's unit manager at the Seattle regional offices of the EPA. She says Alaska's toxic releases are the highest of any state in the nation - and there's no single explanation for why the numbers have increased.

"Some of the reasons might be that there's increased production. The economy is getting better so people are producing more. Certainly for the mining industry there's variations in ore composition, which is one of the explanations for the increases there. There could be changes in production processes. And sometimes is just a matter of facilities' finding better methods of calculating the amounts of material they're releasing to the environment."

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