Montana Public Radio

U.S. Officials Will Visit Northwest Montana For Selenium Pollution Update

Jun 10, 2021

Three U.S. officials from an international transboundary regulatory group will learn more about the upstream Canadian coal mine pollution flowing into Northwest Montana next week. The group’s fact-finding mission to the U.S. side of Lake Koocanusa will focus on learning more about the high levels of selenium flowing from British Columbia coal mines.

The International Joint Commission’s trip comes as pressure mounts on the group to investigate the issue.

Rob Sisson is one of three U.S. commissioners on the IJC, a committee tasked with investigating and resolving transboundary water disputes between the U.S. and Canada. Sisson says the trip, which has been planned since March, is just intended to keep U.S. commissioners up to date.

“We do have an alert function, which we’ve used to let both federal governments know that we are hearing a great deal of concern - particularly from the U.S. side - about selenium contamination.” Sisson says.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element but is known to harm fish reproduction at the high levels documented in Lake Koocanusa. Consumption of high levels of selenium can also harm people, according to an IJC report.

Sisson says the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Service Survey will provide him and his fellow commissioners with updates about the latest levels of pollution from federal environmental researchers.

Montana and federal U.S. environmental officials approved a limit on selenium levels for Lake Koocanusa. It has little impact while British Columbia is without its own pollution standard rules.