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Alaska Mine First in Nation with Certified Environmental Program

The Red Dog lead and zinc mine in Northwest Alaska has become the first mine in the nation — and one of a handful in the world — to have its environmental management systems certified under ISO 14001, a stringent international standard.

Dec. 19—The Red Dog lead and zinc mine in Northwest Alaska has become the first mine in the nation — and one of a handful in the world — to have its environmental management systems certified under ISO 14001, a stringent international standard.

The certificate was presented to Teck Cominco Alaska Inc., the mine operator, and NANA Regional Corp., the landowner, by SGS International Certification Services, a third party auditor, at an Alaska Support Industry Alliance meeting Dec. 9.

"This is a remarkable achievement and an example of what Red Dog has done to continually improve its environmental performance," Helvi Sandvik, president of NANA Development Corp., said at the Alliance meeting.

NANA is the landowner at Red Dog and a partner with Teck Cominco in operating the mine.

ISO 14001 is an international standard that defines the structure and requirements of an environmental management system. Certification involves an independent third-party auditor to do a detailed review of a company's compliance with its stated environmental procedures.

SGS performed the audit and certification of Red Dog and will continue to monitor the environmental performance of the mine operation.

"The ISO 14001 standard requires internal reviews and ongoing visits by SGS to ensure Red Dog complies with its processes and procedures," said Malcolm Ting, lead assessor for SGS.

The certification effort required two years and 25,000 man-hours to complete, said James Kulas, environmental superintendent for Teck Cominco at Red Dog.

Red Dog, in the DeLong Mountains 90 miles north of Kotzebue, is the world's largest lead-zinc mine. It produces more than 1 million tons of concentrates and stores production through the winter at a port on the Chukchi Sea, about 60 miles from the mine. Concentrates are trucked by road from the mine to the port.

The Chukchi Sea is open to navigation about three months a year. All of Red Dog's annual production is sent to market during the ice-free months of the year.

The environmental compliance standard is important to Red Dog because there have been concerns raised about impacts on water quality due to mine operations, and about lead-zinc dust contamination of vegetation along the road to the port.

Since the mine started production in 1989, water quality standards have been continually tightened at the mine, Doug Horswill told the Alliance. Horswill is Teck Cominco's senior vice president for corporate and environmental affairs.

In the first permit for Red Dog in 1989, the level of zinc allowed in water discharges was 750 milligrams per liter, Horswill said. In the 1998 water quality permit issued for the mine, the level is reduced 109 milligrams per liter, he said.

A similar reduction has taken place in the allowed level of cadmium in discharges, from 50 milligrams per liter in 1989 to 2 milligrams in the latest permit, Horswill said.

Kulas told the Alliance that Red Dog's mining operation is covered by 155 permits that contain 3,000 separate compliance requirements. The federal discharge permit is 50 pages in length and requires 1,200 measurements related to water quality to be done periodically.

A unique feature of Red Dog is that under NANA's development contract with Teck Cominco the mine's environmental performance is reviewed by a subsistence committee of hunters from villages in the region. Under the contract, the subsistence committee has the authority to shut down mining operations if problems develop, Walter Sampson, NANA's vice president for lands and resources, told the Alliance.

"The members of this committee are not employees of NANA or Teck Cominco.

Their responsibility is to ensure that there are no harmful effects on resources important to subsistence in our region, from caribou to beluga whales," Sampson told the Alliance.

Horswill told the Alliance that Red Dog is viewed worldwide as a model for the mining industry for developing a mine in a remote area with a sensitive environment, and with substantial benefits extended to the indigenous people of the region. More than 50 percent of the workers at the mine are shareholders of NANA.

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© 2004, Alaska Journal of Commerce, Anchorage. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.