In southeastern Idaho, within the vast expanse of national forests, wild roadless areas, and blue ribbon trout streams that make up the greater Yellowstone region, the Smoky Canyon Mine has earned notoriety as one of the area's worst polluters.
Owned by the J. R. Simplot Company, the phosphate mining operation leaves tailngs with extraordinarily high levels of selenium, a naturally occurring yet toxic element that is poisoning the nearby rivers and streams of the Caribou Targhee National Forest - part of the broader region that NRDC is campaigning to protect through its BioGems initiative.
Selenium is reaking havoc on the region: Idaho officials have adviced residents to limit consumption of fish from local waters, and several flocks of sheep have died after drinking from streams or eating grass tainted by selenium.
The mine is listed as a Superfund site, and though virtually no cleanup has been done, Simplot has proposed to expand the Smoky Canyon Mine, and the Bush adminstration seemes poised to approve its plan. Visit www.biogems.org to learn more.
Ever health conscious, California has established the nation's first statewide program to monitor the levels of chemical contaminants in humans. Last fall, the state legislature passed a bill that creates a framework for public health officials to test volunteers for toxic substances like mercury, pesticides, PCBs, and flame retardants. The results will inform studies of vexing diseases with suspected environmental causes autism, cancer, and heart disease to cite a few examples. The program will also allow Californians to compare their own chemical exposure with statewide averages. "People ask to be tested for various toxic chemicals, but I often have to turn them away because there are no standards against which I can compare their results," says Gina Solomon, a medical doctor and NRDC senior scientist who provided scientific guidance to the bill's sponsors.