Angoon calls for help after discovering high mercury levels in subsistence seal

Sea lions sit on a buoy in front of Angoon May 31, 2014. (James Brooks photo)
Sea lions sit on a buoy in front of Angoon May 31, 2014. (James Brooks photo)

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The City of Angoon believes high levels of mercury have been discovered in subsistence food caught near Hawk Inlet and that Hecla’s Greens Creek Mine could be responsible.

Angoon’s tribal government is asking for changes with the monitoring and processing of mine waste. Albert Howard, the city’s mayor and tribal president, said dead crab initiated the concern.

Last year, a seal was harvested at Hawk Point and brought back to the village to share. Howard said a sample of the tissue was sent to a lab to be inspected.

“And the lab results came back and it’s one of the highest levels of mercury seen in the state of Alaska since the seal sample program has taken place,” Howard said.

Howard said the Friends of Admiralty Island also found elevated toxic metals in seaweed, clams, mussels, shrimp, cockles and crab. It’s such a concern that Angoon has warned tribal members not to collect traditional foods in the area.

Howard said he would like to see the city and the mine work together to clean up the water.

“I understand that the mine is important to a lot of people for jobs and revenue into the City and Borough of Juneau, but there’s also a responsibility to the community health. And what I meant by that is the city council and the tribal council understand the importance of the community’s health and our children,” Howard said.

Greens Creek spokesperson Mike Satre said the mine reports a sample on an annual basis.

“We meet all the permitted conditions that are put on us by the state for the discharge of our water into Hawk Inlet,” Satre said.

While the reports are annual, Satre said they’re based on continuous monitoring and sampling of the discharge water, supplemented by quarterly bio-monitoring and additional sampling of seawater and sediment.

Angoon has requested that Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services look into the matter.