by Jamie Hale
A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency outlines the amount of toxic chemicals Idaho facilities released into the environment back in 2010, and the numbers are especially high in the south and southeast parts of the state. But some facilities might not be releasing the chemicals as openly as you might think.
Regardless, Idaho facilities released a total of 67 million pounds of chemicals, a 17 percent increase from 2009. Of the top ten facilities that released toxic chemicals, five are located in south and southeast Idaho. Together they released more than 24.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals, about 36 percent of the state’s total.
Soda Springs-based P4 Productions, a subsidiary of phosphate mining company Monsanto, contributed to more than half of that total, releasing more than 16 million pounds of toxic chemicals, making it the second biggest producer in the state. The Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan was the only facility that topped Monsanto, releasing more than 19.7 million pounds.
Down the list at number five is J.R. Simplot in Pocatello who released about 3 million pounds; at number seven is McCain Foods in Burley with about 2.6 million pounds; at number eight is the Amalgamated Sugar Company in Paul with nearly 1.5 million pounds; and at number nine is Glanbia Foods in Gooding with more than 1.3 million pounds.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, said the data is critically important to Idahoans. Those chemicals, although they might not pose any immediate harm to people, can hurt residents over time.
“There is a whole body of evidence going back to the beginning of the industrial revolution of how pollutants have a real impact on people and their babies and their lives,” said Oppenheimer.
According to the report, plenty of chemicals were released, but two stand out as the most-released in Idaho: manganese and vanadium. More than 19.3 million pounds of vanadium compounds and more than 10.8 million pounds of manganese compounds were released into the air, water and ground, according to the report. Combined they make up 45.2 percent of all the toxic chemicals released.
But although they might be harmful, these toxic chemicals aren’t necessarily a risk to anybody, said Trent Clark, director of public and government affairs for Monsanto.
While they are technically released by facilities like Monsanto’s, Clark said the company goes to great lengths to stop exposure to humans, plants or animals. When the Soda Springs mine takes those chemicals out of the ground, they use a technique that essentially melts the dirt, turning it, and the chemicals, into a kind of toxic glass.
In the glassy form, the chemicals’ exposure to humans is minimal, but the release numbers still come out high, said Clark. He had a very simple explanation.
“The numbers that you’re seeing are large because Monsanto is a large facility,” he said, not because Monsanto exposes people to large amounts of toxic chemicals.
But with chemicals like ammonia and nitrate being pumped into our air and water from other facilities, the report is still concerning to conservation groups like Oppenheimer’s. He said there still need to be stiff regulations of pollutants and constant monitoring of the chemicals that go into the environment.
“Doing things like keeping the regulations on toxic chemicals in place but not doing the monitoring on them is pretty short-sighted policy,” he said. But at the end of the day he’s confident in the bi-partisan desire to keep the environment clean.
“No one wants polluted air that we all have to breathe,” said Oppenheimer. “At the end of the day, folks want to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@gmail.com