Myths and untruths employed to prop up selenium scare

| October 2, 2020 7:00 AM

To the editor:

Shawna Kelsey’s letter to the editor (“Gunderson appears to happily carry dirty water for Teck’s mining operations,” Sept. 25) was quite entertaining. Once again a Yaak Valley Forest Council member twists information and facts to justify the agenda of a radical group bent on rewilding northwest Montana.

The selenium “scare” was brought to us by Trout Unlimited around the time I was first elected. I have spent the intervening years researching and fact checking. The scare tactics Trout Unlimited used were full color photos of deformed fish, including a two-headed trout.

Statement: We were told that the terrible consequences of high levels of selenium would cause these deformities in the Kootenai River and Koocanusa waterways in the accompanying article. Fact: The photo of the two-headed trout was taken in 2005 of a fish from a Midwestern fish hatchery that had never been in wild waters.

New information revealed that the trout actually was in the control group in a selenium test so it was never subjected to even a low level of selenium. It was just a genetic anomaly that had nothing to do with selenium. It was the same with a deformed nose of a fish: A hatchery anomaly.

Statement: Canadian radicals testified in those last Department of Environmental Quality meetings that there was a recent, terrible “fish kill” attributed to selenium in the Elk River fishery. Fact: Fish surveys conducted on the Elk River every two years from 2012 to 2017 found an annual increase in fish numbers.

In the 2019 survey, there was a substantial fish population decline all across the lifecycle of fish with decreases in fry, juveniles and adults since then. DEQ says selenium affects the reproductive organs, causing long-term losses of the number of fry, then juveniles and, ultimately, adults since there are no young fish being produced. There is no current data to answer what caused the population decrease; more than likely some environmental issue such as flow or temperature. There was no fish kill caused by high selenium levels. How does one explain the population increase during periods of high selenium levels on the Elk?

Statement: In 2012, DEQ predicted the selenium levels would exceed the standard. Fact: There was no direct evidence of exceeding the current water standard.

Statement: In 2015, DEQ made the same prediction. Fact: Again the same. The level of selenium never exceeded the standard.

DEQ wrongly listed (without science) Lake Koocanusa as “impaired” by selenium. Lake Koocanusa has not exceeded the EPA water standards for selenium levels to trigger a “threatened” or “impaired” status.

Ms. Kelsey, I ask the same of you as I ask at each DEQ meeting: “Where are the two-headed trout? Show me just one. Show me evidence that the selenium issue is the horrible ecological disaster portrayed by the radical environmental movement.”

Where is the science being fully applied in this rush to lower the standard? Where is your pollution?

Fact: Science and water treatment data is being ignored.

I would love to talk to my constituents about the selenium scare, and the data and science I have to back up my statements. Call Ms. Kelsey to find out how many jobs she has created.

State Rep. Steve Gunderson