Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 2012 Water Quality Trip

June Water Quality Sampling
June 14, 2012




















It was my first trip out on the Kuskokwim for work-related purposes. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect - I’d done water quality sampling before, but that was back in Pennsylvania.  I’d been out on the Kuskokwim before, but that was for  fun!  Combining these two experiences in my mind to try and get an idea of what was to come left me with one thing: uncertainty.

So the drive down the river to Georgetown was just as I remembered it and expected it to be - gorgeous.  We probably couldn’t have had a better day for it, weather wise.  


The sampling site for monitoring wells 1 & 2 was just a short walk up the bank from the Kuskokwim, across the river from Georgetown.  Lots of mosquitos, check.  GTC uses a YSI 556 for the testing.  We took measurements for about an hour at each monitoring well, and then gathered water samples to submit for further testing in Anchorage.
Next we took samples from the Kuskokwim and the George.
I had never been up the George and since the water was high, we were able to get the boat pretty far up.

We made a quick stop in Georgetown before heading back up to Sleetmute - here’s a snapshot of what Georgetown looks like from the boat:




Will got us back to Sleetmute safely, and the trip back was just as pretty as the trip there.



I look forward to many more opportunities to get out on the River to Georgetown.  With views like this, what more could you want?

































Friday, June 8, 2012


Red Devil Mine Informational Meeting
June 2012

BLM Anchorage Field Office
Presentation to Will Hartman and Kate Thalhauser from GTC given by Matt Varner, Mike McCrum, Larry Beck, Jim Fincher & Teresa McPherson all from BLM
This article presents a summary of both presentations: Red Devil Mine Community Workshop and Mercury in Fish Tissue Study 
Red Devil Mine Community Workshop presentation made by Mike McCrum. 
Summary of presentation:
Proposed Timeline-
Draft Remedial Investigation (RI) Report issued March 2012.  Community meetings to go over significant findings and results from RI were held in Spring 2012.  Community meeting presentation was given to GTC June 27, 2012. 
BLM has received and Responded to Comments of RI, and are expecting to meet in July to discuss between Agencies.
Preparing to start Feasibility Study (FS), hoping to have a FS in Fall 2012. 
Proposed Plan will be put together by Spring 2013 or Winter 2014 and will be available for comment, and presented to communities at that point.  Proposed plan will summarize FS and after BLM receives feedback from communities and agencies, they will put together a Record of Decision (ROD) – stating the plan for cleanup.  This will be the time for GTC members to comment and have any concerns addressed.
Following the ROD, Remedial Action (cleanup) will take place, and will be followed by continued long term monitoring.
Results of RI:
The three main elements of concern were Antimony, Mercury and Arsenic.  Results were presented in terms of three different areas at Red Devil Mine: the main process area, the alluvial area (where Red Devil Creek enters the Kuskokwim River) and the Surface Mine area( approximately 250 acres of area along the Kuskokwim downriver from the main process area). 
The majority of high concentrations of Mercury and Arsenic found in Red Devil Creek surface water and sediment, surface soil, subsurface soil and groundwater were located in the main processing area.  Close to where the Red Devil Creek enters the Kuskokwim River (the alluvial area), there were some points of higher concentration, but not as many.  There was no direct evidence of tailings in the Surface Mine Area, and the farther from the main process area you got, the lower the concentrations of Mercury and Arsenic.
Samples were also taken in the Kuskokwim River sediment.  The results indicate that upstream of Red Devil Creek, concentrations of Arsenic and Mercury were low, but showed a significant increase directly downstream of the Red Devil Creek and continuing along the surface mine area of the Kuskokwim.  The concentrations decreased the farther downriver you go, reaching levels similar to upriver.  BLM plans to sample further down river to document that levels go down to the same level as they were upstream from Red Devil Creek. 
When conducting the Human Risk Assessment, BLM made very conservative assumptions that represent high end exposure for a person at the site.  Actual exposure would most likely be much less. The risk assessment was done for three groups of people
  • Resident – assume to live work and eat in the area of concern 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
  • Subsistence – only on sight for fishing and hunting
  • Mine Worker – scenario for if mine were to open again, assume 8-10 hours per day on site
The assessment was also done for both toxicity and cancer risks.  The results show that for all three categories, the levels of cumulative Arsenic were well above threshold levels for both toxicity and cancer risks.  Again, these results were reported based on VERY CONSERVATIVE assumptions, and do not indicate that people in the area are at risk for toxicity or cancer, it only indicates that a cleanup of the Red Devil Mine site is warranted.
For Questions on these results, contact
Jim Fincher, BLM Anchorage Field Manager 907-267-1246
Mike McCrum, BLM Red Devil Mine Project Manager at 907-271-4426
Or you can reach them by e-mail at  blm_ak_reddevil@blm.gov

To view powerpoint presentation given:

Results of Fish Tissue Study were presented by Matt Varner.

Summary of Presentation:
The Kuskokwim River basin produces 99% of all mercury produced in Alaska, hence the name “The Mercury Belt” … Red Devil Mine itself produced 87% of all mercury produced in Alaska.  Cinnabar is the principle ore mineral that contains mercury.  Methylmercury is the form of Mercury with greatest risk to human health, it is stored in fish tissue and it is the only form of Mercury that biomagnifies, or continues to accumulate, as you move up the food chain.  Methylmercury is the result of bacterial activity that can occur in swampy areas. 
This study focused on predatory fish – primarily pike and burbot (lush), but also included sheefish, Dolly Varden, and arctic grayling.  Salmon were not considered in this study, as they spend most of their life stage in the ocean.   Sampling was done in 2010 and 2011.
The 2010 study sampled from the Holitna, Kuskokwim, Tatlawiksuk, Stony, Oskawalik, and George Rivers.  In 2011, the study was expanded and conducted additional sampling of burbot and northern pike from the Holitna, Hoholitna, Kuskokwim, and George Rivers.   In addition to predatory fish, aquatic insect samples were taken and forage fish sampling was conducted in the area.
As expected, results from the study showed that Mercury was found in much higher concentrations in the sediment and water samples taken at Cinnabar Creek and Red Devil Creek – located at the mine site.  Similarly, in aquatic insects and forage fish tissue studies, total mercury was much higher in insects sampled at the Red Devil Creek as compared to other tributaries along the middle Kuskokwim River. 
One unexpected result from the predatory fish tissue results was that in northern pike, total mercury was found to be highest in fish sampled in the George River.  This raised the question as to where the fish spend most of their time, if they travel extended amounts or remain mostly in the same area.  In burbot and sheefish, the total mercury found was fairly consistent in fish sampled along the Kuskokwim and its tributaries.  Arctic Grayling total mercury concentration was highest at the Red Devil location, but this was only in one fish, and again raised the question about fish movement. 
From Matt’s presentation:
“In general, mercury data from sampled predatory fish, such as pike and burbot, from the mainsteam Kuskokwim and its tributaries showed no clear patterns with the exception of samples from the George River.   Sampled fish from the George River routinely had mercury concentrations greater than fish from other sites. 
The seasonal mobility of these species made some analysis of the data difficult, however the data collected from radio tagged fish should greatly enhance our understanding of fish movement in relation to known mercury sources in the Kuskokwim basis.”
In June 2011, the State of Alaska issued a fact sheet with preliminary consumption guidelines, available at:
What it means for you:
  • Only women of childbearing age and young children should limit the amount of pike and lush they eat.  Everyone else can eat as much as they like.
  • Pike and Lush from the middle Kuskokwim can have higher levels of mercury than other fish.  Choose fish such as salmon, white fish, and sheefish whenever possible. 
  • To keep mercury intake low – eat a variety of fish more often and when you do eat pike and lush, eat smaller fish more often, and eat bigger fish and dried fish less often. 
  • Hair Mercury Testing is available for free for any woman of childbearing age in Alaska.  For more information, go to: