Elk River contamination

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PAOV — In BC’s Elk Valley, a 100km stretch of coal mines is polluting the local ecosystem, resulting in deformed fish and fears of a total population collapse of sensitive species. Now, drinking water has also been contaminated.

Save Elk River is urging the BC government to intervene to protect BC water, wildlife, and First Nations communities. Will you add your name?

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Elk Valley waters flow through unceded Ktunaxa territory in British Columbia (B.C.) and are upstream of several watersheds, including ones south of the United States (U.S.) border. Over the last few decades, mining activity in Elk Valley has elevated the levels of selenium and other pollutants in these waters to harmful levels, putting local biodiversity and communities at risk. Help us ensure that the B.C. government takes action to protect our ecosystems and honours its obligations to Indigenous Peoples.


Waste from open-pit coal mines in Elk Valley (operated by Teck Resources Ltd.) has entered surface runoff and groundwater, leading to elevated selenium levels in Elk River.¹, ² Elk River carries selenium to Lake Koocanusa and Kootenay River, affecting waters as far as Montana and Idaho and putting aquatic ecosystems at risk:²

  • High selenium can cause birth defects in many life-forms.¹
  • In fish, selenium toxicity causes spine, jaw, and eye deformities, anaemia, and gill swelling, lowering survival rates and causing population decline.¹

Human health and Indigenous food security are also impacted:

  • Many watersheds fall downstream of the Elk River.¹
  • Selenosis or “chronic selenium intoxication” has symptoms including nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, aches, as well as hair and nail loss.³
  • Consistently elevated selenium intake is linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive issues.³
  • The river’s Westslope cutthroat trout populations and White sturgeon populations further downstream have declined.¹,⁴ These fish have historically been major food sources for locals, and are culturally significant to various Indigenous tribes.⁴

The B.C. government has taken no action to address these selenium concentrations.⁵ An organization known as the International Joint Commission (IJC) is purpose-built to combat issues with waters shared between Canada and the U.S. and has successfully managed pollution in the Great Lakes, by improving monitoring and imposing water quality standards.⁶ Indigenous activists, the Biden administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with Montana and Idaho authorities have all called for IJC involvement. Unfortunately, the IJC requires a referral from the Canadian government as well to intervene, which past B.C. leadership has prevented.²

Our hope is that the incoming premier, David Eby, will prove more mindful of his government’s duty in protecting B.C. water, wildlife, and First Nations communities.

Please sign this petition to call for action and urge the provincial government to refer Elk River selenium pollution to the IJC.


¹ERA, 2022. Retrieved from https://elkriveralliance.ca/selenium/

²Petryshen, 2022. Retrieved from https://quoimedia.com/water-pollution-crisis-in-bcs-elk-valley-threatens-to-spill-into-a-transborder-political-dispute/

³HPAB, 2020. Retrieved from https://ijc.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/HPAB_SeleniumHealthReview_2020.pdf

⁴Weber, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/first-nations-selenium-governments-environmentalists-canada-1.6624722

⁵Beatty & Russo, 2014; Ktunaxa Nation Council, 2022. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/air-land-water/water/waterquality/water-quality-guidelines/approved-wqgs/bc_moe_se_wqg.pdf and https://www.ktunaxa.org/documents-global-affairs-canada-shelves-a-joint-international-initiative-to-address-kootenay-watershed-selenium-contamination/

⁶UVic ELC, 2022. Retrieved from r66
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