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EPA fines Pogo gold mine owner for mishandling hazardous waste

Australia-base Northern Star Resources owns the Pogo Gold mine, located about 35 miles northeast of Delta Junction.
KUAC file photo
Australia-based Northern Star Resources owns the Pogo gold mine, located about 35 miles northeast of Delta Junction.

EPA lawyer: Northern Star Resources 'don’t have a good handle on the types of hazards that they were generating’

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has fined the owner of the Pogo gold mine $600,000 for improperly storing, treating and disposing of nearly 365,000 tons of hazardous materials into the mine near Delta Junction.

The EPA said in a news release issued Tuesday that it fined Australia-based Northern Star Resources for 81 violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA. The violations mainly involved hazardous wastes discovered in and around an assay laboratory at the mine.

“There’s a concern that they don’t have a good handle on the types of hazards that they were generating in that laboratory,” says Brett Dugan, an EPA attorney based at the agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle.

Dugan says the violations were discovered during a June 2019 inspection at the mine and two underground tanks beneath the lab.

“They were accumulating acidic waste in one tank underneath the laboratory, and then cyanide-bearing waste in another,” he said, “and then treating them on-site.”

Dugan says the tanks didn’t comply with RCRA regulations. And neither did the way Northern Star was getting rid of the hazardous materials.

“They were disposing of this waste by mixing it with all the other wastes that are generated as part of the mine, (and) they were disposing it on-site,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Dugan says workers at Pogo got rid of waste by mixing it in with a concrete slurry and injected it into the mine. He says the process violated RCRA and posed potential environmental concerns.

According to a Sept. 27, 2022 consent agreement between EPA and Northern Star, "between at least June 3, 2019, and May 29, 2021, Respondent (Northern Star) stored, treated, and disposed of hazardous waste at the Facility without a permit or interim status in violation" of provisions of the EPA-administered hazardous waste-permit program.

A Fairbanks-based Northern Star spokesperson said in a written response Tuesday that the company’s disposal of hazardous wastes at the mine “did not result in any negative impact on or damage to the environment.” The spokesperson added that “Northern Star has already taken steps to enhance its current training in RCRA compliance to address any gaps identified to meet RCRA requirements.”

Dugan said Northern Star has agreed to stop using the tanks and seal them. He said it also agreed to stop disposing of the waste in the mine, and instead to store it in containers and ship it to a permitted disposal facility, as the RCRA law requires.

Editor’s note: KUAC Senior Reporter/Producer Dan Bross contributed to this story.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.