Two-headed fish and more. Controversial report issued on effects of giant phosphate mine on the Idaho-Wyoming border

Simplot Company report to justify lower water quality standards provokes big controversy-

Anglers don’t like pulling fish off their lure that look like mutant monsters. The accusation that selenium poisoning from the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine is killing fish, creating awful deformities, and being picked up into the ecosystem in general has greeted  a 700-page draft report, prepared for Simplot who wants easier quality standards in the streams draining their huge mine.  The draft report was reviewed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service who found that it did not justify lower standards.

The report did acknowledge abnormal, including 2-headed trout, in laboratory hatching, but argued that natural selection would quickly eliminate any such fish in the streams and that immigration would replace poorly reproducing fish currently in the streams.

The big mine employs quite a few people at good wages, but it and other, older mines in the Idaho Phosphate belt have increasingly bled toxic levels of selenium from the waste and hundreds of sheep died eating curly cup gumweed (a selenium concentrator) on a reclaimed mining site.  A new mine is just getting underway next to the Blackfoot River. Hopes are that this one has been designed to prevent the leakage of selenium, which naturally occurs in the rock in the area of the mines.

Expansion of the Smoky Canyon Mine has long been fought by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, though not successfully. The mine has strong support in the Idaho political establishment.

Here is the Reuters story on the report: Idaho mine understates impact on fish deformities: U.S. By Laura Zuckerman.
A follow-up by the Jackson Hole News and Guide. After denial, photos show 2-headed trout. Deformed fish are common near phosphate mine draining into Snake River. By Cory Hatch.
Here the Simplot Corporation’s web page on the mine.
Greater Yellowstone Coalition story on the issue.

If you find a Simplot rebuttal other than in the Reuters story, please email it to us.




  1. Salle Avatar

    That’s a good link, Nancy.

    I find it interesting that the ID state’s official web page on selenium health impacts is a “page not found” when you try to use the link. It’s an Idaho thing… information is dangerous.

    1. Doryfun Avatar


      My guess is that drinking selenium flavored water leads to bad thinking, or none at all.

      1. Salle Avatar

        yeah, that’s a good point. Of course, if you were known to have been drinking that stuff, I’d add that it might be the point on top of your head!

        I know the water I had access to in SE ID when I lived there was pretty bad, too much phosphate and other scary stuff. It smells like fertilizer, like the air around Pocatello often does.

        I’m sure you’re right about the bad or no thinking.

  2. Nancy Avatar

    A link, within the link:

    Be interesting to see what the study finds when they extend the test areas. The drugs found are a revealing sign of the times in our society.

    1. Salle Avatar

      Yes. I became aware of the run-off issues way back in the early 1980s, I was acquainted with a few people who were conducting studies on run-off impacts in the Mississippi River watershed. Lots of farm chems and medical waste…

      In the late 1990s I attended a few classes that addressed regional run-off concerns.

      One of the major factors in this whole argument is that the mining corp is the largest landholder in the state and has generally had its way all along. It was, and might still also be, the largest employer in the state. Serious land-baron stuff happening, I’m sure you don’t get to be a member of the governing bodies of the state without approval from this corporate interest…

  3. Doryfun Avatar

    ICL has this on the radar too. So not everyone has been affected by the flavored water.

  4. Salle Avatar

    “But state government officials cautioned not to read too much into the report’s findings.

    Selenium, a naturally occurring element that becomes concentrated in certain areas due to phosphate and coal mining, may be related to the production of two-headed fish, said Mark Gamblin, Idaho Department of Fish and Game southeast regional supervisor. Then again, he said, it may not be.

    “It could have happened absent of selenium contamination,” Gamblin said.

    To a certain degree, deformities are to be expected in this kind of study since its goal was to measure the effects of a range of selenium-exposure intensities on young fish, said Bruce Olenick, regional administrator in the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Pocatello office.”

    Sound familiar?

  5. Nancy Avatar

    Another interesting read (on the opposite side of the country) regarding selenium pollution:

    And does this statement not have a familiar ring to it or what?

    “Patriot Coal blasted the court decision as unnecessary and said the coal industry needs to focus on efforts to rewrite West Virginia’s water quality rules to weaken the state’s selenium limits.

    Selenium, a naturally occurring element found in many rocks and soils, is an antioxidant needed in very small amounts for good health


    In slightly larger amounts, selenium can be toxic. Selenium impacts the reproductive cycle of many aquatic species, can impair the development and survival of fish, and can damage gills or other organs of aquatic organisms subject to prolonged exposure. It can also be toxic to humans, causing kidney and liver damage, as well as damage to the nervous and circulatory systems”

    **For some reason Libby, Montana comes to mind 🙁

    Sadly, Scarlett O”Hara said it best “I’ll think about it tomorrow” Tomorrow is never gonna come when you’re a company, bend on sucking the landscape dry, in order to make a profit.

  6. Craig Avatar

    Simplot + Butch otter = 3 headed Fish

  7. Doryfun Avatar

    In the latest issue of High Country News (Feb 6)there is a story about John Mionczynski – naturalist/scientist in Uncommon Westerner. He worked on Bighorn sheep projects and developed a theory in the 90’s that selenium defiency caused by nitrate pollution leaching from the soil was part of the reason for sickening bighorns. I’m not sure how this ties in with the phosphate mining, but there could be some connection? Like Fracting tortures drinking water,perhaps plant foods are thus affected?

  8. Doryfun Avatar


    Wow, you are quite the researcher. That is an impressive list of good technical stuff. Thanks. It is a bit overwhelming though, when you think about so many issues and tons of information to wade through trying to filter out the truth.

    It’s especially daunting trying to save the world.

  9. Nancy Avatar

    Don’t you just love the internet 🙂 So much beneficial research & sources at one’s fingertips now that just wasn’t avaiable a couple of decades ago.

  10. Salle Avatar

    back in the news…

    The Tale of J.R. Simplot’s Two-Headed Trout
    with photos

    Without photos:


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Ralph Maughan