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Published October 25, 2007 03:37 PM

Study: Mercury Pollution Threatens Idaho Children

Reno, Nevada - New emissions data, obtained from the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP), show that northern Nevada gold mines are still under-reporting substantial amounts of mercury air pollution. It also reveals that a number of mines that were previously considered small sources of mercury air pollution are actually very large sources, yet these mines have few pollution controls in place. Until 2006, mines were not required to actually measure mercury releases, only estimate mercury emissions.

 

Mercury exposure is a serious pubic health concern, particularly for children. Exposure to mercury can cause significant neurological and developmental problems such as attention and language deficits, impaired memory and impaired vision and motor function. 

"We now know that hundreds of pounds of mercury are needlessly going into our air from mines that have minimal controls in place," said John Hadder of Great Basin Mine Watch. "This new information is a wake-up call. We want the State and industry to agree to get controls in place right away." 

Under Nevada's new mercury regulations, the four largest mercury polluters were prioritized as "Tier 1" mines and all the smaller emitters as "Tier 2" mines based on information available at the time. The new emissions data, however, reveals that a number of the Tier 2 mines are actually large sources of mercury air pollution.

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For example:

* The Florida Canyon mine submitted no mercury pollution reports to the EPA for the last eight years, yet the new information indicates that the mine is a large source of emissions, reporting 440 pounds of emissions in a 2006 report to NDEP. 

* The Rawhide Mine submitted reports to the EPA of just 0-1 pound of emissions for each of previous 8 years, yet it reported 351 pounds of emissions to NDEP in 2006. The mine is currently winding down operations.

Other "Tier 2" mines that are now reporting large emissions include the Newmont Lone Tree mine at 622 pounds and the Glamis Gold mine at 1,010 pounds in 2006. 

While the Tier 1 mines have installed some form of pollution control and are beginning to demonstrate progress in reducing emissions, many of the Tier 2 mines have been operating with very minimal controls in place. Furthermore, Nevada's regulations don't require installation of MACT standard pollution control devices until 2009-2013.

"These mines are putting Idaho kids at risk," said Justin Hayes of Idaho Conservation League. "Nevada needs to get a handle on these mines right away." 

"It's unfortunate that these mines have been allowed to operate for so long without effective controls when there's affordable technology available." said Dr. Glenn Miller an environmental scientist with the University of Nevada – Reno. "The mercury problem has been known for nearly ten years and each mine should have had a much more aggressive monitoring and mercury capture program in place."

The three conservation groups filed notices today warning the Florida Canyon and Kennecott Denton Rawhide gold mines that they would take legal action if the companies didn't come forward with accurate information on their toxic mercury air pollution as required by the Community Right to Know Act. 

Over the last year, more than a dozen new fish consumption advisories have been issued warning the public of mercury contamination in fish in Nevada and the down-wind states of Idaho and Utah. According to the most recent complete EPA information (2005), Nevada gold mines produce 25% of all mercury air emissions west of Texas.

"Nevada is one of the nation's top mercury hot spots," said Bonnie Gestring of EARTHWORKS, a national watchdog group. "People have a right to know how much toxic mercury is released near their home and workplace." 

The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) was created to ensure that the public has access to important information on the toxic and hazardous materials released near their community. Under the law, mining operations are required to submit an annual toxic chemical release report to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is then made available to the public through its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) .

To read the 60-day notices: 

* http://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=303

* http://www.earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=304

Great Basin Mine Watch works to protect the land, air, water and wildlife and the communities that depend on them from the adverse impacts of mining. We focus our efforts on the Great Basin and surrounding desert bioregions.

Idaho Conservation League preserves Idaho's clean water, wilderness and quality of life through citizen action, public education, and professional advocacy.

 

 

EARTHWORKS is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the destructive impacts of mineral development, in the U.S. and worldwide. If you would rather not receive future email messages from EARTHWORKS -- press list opt-out, let us know by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

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