Two-Headed Baby Trout Found Near Idaho Mine

Why were photographs of two-headed brown trout tucked away in the appendix of a scientific study commissioned by the J. R. Simplot Company, which has polluted creeks in southern Idaho with its phosphate mining operations?

The report was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency to review; the company was seeking a judgment about whether it would be allowable for levels of selenium, a metal byproduct of mining, to remain in creeks at higher rates than current regulations allowed. Selenium is toxic to fish and to birds but the EPA, having reviewed the several-hundred page report, said that it was “comprehensive” and seemed poised to grant the selenium variance.

Scientists and environmentalist raised an outcry: As the New York Times details, selenium is one of the pollutants found at 200 of the 1,294 toxic Superfund sites. Selenium’s effects on wildlife have long been known but the EPA and federal agencies have yet to rule on what level should be prohibited.

After hearing of the concerns, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to examine Simplot’s report. The service has issued a review describing the mining company’s findings as both “biased” and highly questionable” and lacking analysis of selenium’s effects on reptiles, birds or the 12 other types of fish. Of greatest concern was that the report’s researchers had apparently “systematically undermeasured” the rate of deformities in baby fish.

In fact, Joseph Skorupa, the selenium expert for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said that the level of selenium that Simplot said would cause a 20 percent deformity rate actually caused a rate of a minimum of 70 percent.

Selenium has been regulated in drinking water since the 1970s. In humans, it causes hair and fingernail loss and numbness in the fingers and toes. In aquatic animals, the effects are far worse:

…the metal is far more dangerous to aquatic egg-bearing animals like fish, birds and reptiles — a fact revealed in the early 1980s when excessive selenium in agricultural runoff resulted in fatal deformities in waterfowl at the Kesterson Reservoir in California, including missing eyes and feet, deformed beaks, legs and wings, and protruding brains.

As David Janz, an aquatic toxicology professor at the University of Saskatchewan who participated in a peer review of the Fish and Wildlife Service study, says in the New York Times, “In my research, I have seen lots of malformed baby fish, but never one with two heads.” While noting that such deformities “do occur naturally in the wild,” Janz says that he thinks selenium pollution is the culprit.

Aside from saying that the additional review by the Fish and Wildlife Service is “totally outside the regulatory process,” Simplot has offered no comment.

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Image of the Smoky Canyon Phosphate Mine by Sky Truth

85 comments

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe4 years ago

The level of selenium causing a deformity rate is a minimum of 70 percent. Good lands - how much are they putting in that water?

Jay Williamson
Jay w4 years ago

this reminds me of the episode of the simpsons where there is a fish with 3 eyes lol

Anand YNI
Anand Y N I4 years ago

Disgusting.

Karen Baker
Karen Baker4 years ago

What the hell are we doing !!!!!

Adrianne P.
A P.4 years ago

Sad. Humans just keep polluting and ruining nature.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

Selenium is a trace mineral, necessary in very small (RDA about 200 micrograms= 0.2 milligrams) amounts but TOXIC in excess.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

This reminds me of the three-eyed fish in the Simpsons.

patricia m lasek
patricia lasek4 years ago

Remember the movies in the 1960's about mutants caused by pollution?

J.L. A.
JL A.4 years ago

scary!

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

I stand corrected, Liyon. You are right, and I mis-read the information in Wikipedia. I do know it's added in my daily vitamin capsules and the doctor who formulates them (a naturalpathic physician who travels world-wide to get natural remedies for many things) has written many articles about it's benefits, especially in treating thyroid problems. My friend who was one of my horseback riding companions almost lost one of her horses to a selenium deficient diet. It mimicked EPM and she was going to have him put down. She didn't feed grain nor anything else but her own pastures and local, GRASS hay which is deficient in minerals in many ways. All he needed was a supplement or 1 cup of grain a day with trace minerals added.