XS Platinum, corporate officers, indicted by federal grand jury

Nov 21, 2014

Five corporate officers facing felony charges for illegal discharges of wastewater into Salmon River at the Platinum Creek Mine.

Reposted courtesy Ben Matheson, KYUK:  XS Platinum and five of its employees and corporate officers have been indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged illegal discharges of mine waste water at the Platinum Creek Mine into the Salmon River and for making false statements to authorities.

First Assistant US Attorney Kevin Feldis says XS Platinum told federal regulators they would be using a closed loop system at the Platinum Creek Mine.

“That means any water they used in their mining operations were going to be kept in the mine itself and they weren’t going to be discharged into the river. The allegations are that in truth of fact they were discharging out to the Salmon River, and that those discharges were in violation of federal law,” said Feldis.

The indictment says the discharges into the river happened between 2010 and 2011. The Salmon River hosts all five species of Pacific Salmon. It crosses part of the Togiak Refuge and drains into Kuskokwim Bay. The US Attorney’s office did not specify what, if any, environmental damage occurred from the illegal mine wastewater discharges.

Lou Adams is the tribal administrator in Platinum. She says residents get most of their fish from that area.

“We go fishing for salmon, and people were fishing down there at the time,” said Adams. “How is it going to affect the people who ate fish that were swimming in that water?”

Adams says residents could see changes to the normally clear water.

“There was a lot of sediments in the creek, turned milky white, like something was stirring it up,” said Adams.

Mark Lisac is a fisheries biologist for the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. He was flying a fish survey in August of 2011, but couldn’t see any fish.

“It looked like chocolate milk, caramel colored milk. We could tell from a few miles from the river that something wasn’t right,” said Lisac.

After notifying other government regulators to the potential violations refuge staff collected water and fish samples.

Lori Verbrugge, a contaminants biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, found seven metals in water that posed a potential threat to aquatic life. Two that stuck out were aluminum and copper.

“We don’t really know whether those impacts have happened to the fish in the system, because I’m not sure there’s been any follow up  and we don’t really know how long the levels were elevated or how far downstream the levels were elevated. But we do know that right in the mine vicinity the levels were quite elevated,” said Verbrugge.

In juvenile salmon, she found elevated levels of aluminum, iron, and manganese. She says the elements can have toxic effects on fish.

The indictment charges that the company far exceeded the permit limitations for turbidity at measurements hundreds of times the allowed amounts. It says the company used wastewater ponds that leaked into the Salmon River and dug a ditch to direct wastewater into nearby Squirrel Creek. The company never bought a clarifier, used to recycle water, despite telling regulators it would do so.

Prosecutors say the company produced 3,800 troy ounces of platinum metals in violation of the permits, which they sold for about 3.2-million dollars.

The mine has been in operation off and on for more than 70 years. It was a critical resource during World War II. XS Platinum operated the mine between 2008 and 2012.

The charges against the XS Platinum and its five employees are felony offenses. Feldis says the defendants will be given notice of the charges and an arraignment will be scheduled in federal court.

KDLG’s Dave Bendinger contributed to this story.