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Alaska leads the nation in toxic chemical releases, with its mining operations producing 90 percent of total in the four-state Pacific Northwest Region, according to the Alaska Public Radio Network.

A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency said Alaska produced 835 million pounds of toxic chemicals at 32 facilities statewide. That’s a 20 percent increase, according to the 2010 Toxic Release Inventory.  Nationwide, the increase was 16 percent. 

Alaska’s top source of toxic chemical releases is Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue, one of the world’s larges producers of zinc concentrate.  Red Dog's toxic chemical releases total 777 million pounds.  Kelly Huynh, Toxic Release Inventory’s unit manager at the Seattle regional offices of the EPA, told APRN that her office doesn’t regulate individual sites nor police whether the releases are done properly within the limits of each facility’s permit. 

Increased production at more Alaska mining sites could account for the increase, she told APRN. Sometimes, she added, the facilities just devise better methods of calculating exactly what they’re releasing into the environment.

“They talked about changes in production as well as they were talking about changes in their ore composition, which is why their releases increased,” Huynh told APRN.  “We haven’t talked about each facility to determine why they’ve increased from one year to another.  But for Red Dog that was their basic explanation.”

Some 800,000 pounds of arsenic were included in the list 14 different toxic materials released at Red Dog. There were also 300 million pounds of lead compounds and 450 million pounds of zinc compounds at the mine. 

Other large Alaska mines that release toxic chemicals include the Green’s Creek Mine in Juneau (47 million pounds) that produces silver and the Pogo Mine near Delta Junction (7 million pounds). 

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Alaska Dispatch