Simplot’s two-headed fish sparks national debate

23 Feb

See! The mutated fish of southern Idaho! Possibly the result of selenium released by the J.R. Simplot Company! (Photo via New York Times)

A host of mutated trout found in southern Idaho have not only put the J.R. Simplot Company under the microscope, they have launched a national debate on chemical pollutants.

Simplot, which has operations in Pocatello, Burley and Twin Falls, as well as a phosphate mine in Afton, Wyo., caught the fish somewhere in southern Idaho. Instead of shouting their find from the rooftops, the company relegated it to an appendix in the back of a scientific study they commissioned. While the trout are mutated in various ways, the most stunning photos depict actual two-headed fish.

Despite the mutated trout, the study still concluded that it would be safe to allow selenium, a byproduct of their mining operations, despite the material’s toxicity to fish and other wildlife (and apparently obvious evidence). The Environmental Protection Agency seemed to be open to the company’s findings, until other researchers learned of the deformed fish.

Now, federal agencies, environmental groups and Simplot are debating the impact of selenium contamination from the company’s phosphate mine.

But the debate is not relegated to Idaho. Selenium is a pollutant at 200 of the 1,294 designated “Superfund” (or highly polluted) sites across the country. While scientists and researchers have known the chemical is harmful to wildlife for decades, nobody has been able to agree on what levels of selenium are safe to allow.

But don’t worry about trying to keep up with the debates. They’ll go like this: Environmental groups will say selenium is OUT OF CONTROL, Simplot will say the chemical is CONTAINED, and the EPA (always strangely at odds between environmental and corporate interests) won’t know WHAT to do.

In the meantime, us Idahoans can relax and enjoy some homegrown two-headed trout!

[via NYT]


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