Mining Firms Ordered to Continue Cleanup

Nov. 1, 2008
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a unilateral administrative order to international mining company Newmont USA Ltd...

by Patrick Crow

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a unilateral administrative order to international mining company Newmont USA Ltd. and its subsidiary Dawn Mining Co. LLC to continue treating contaminated water at the Midnite Mine Superfund Site in eastern Washington State. Failure to operate the system that captures and treats water at the site to remove uranium and other metals would contaminate Blue Creek, which flows to the Spokane River, and would delay overall cleanup of the site.

Since starting water treatment in 1992, the mining companies disposed of sludge at the mill in Ford, WA, where they processed ore from this open-pit uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation from the mid-'50s until 1981. The mill is now being closed under state authority, and they must dispose of the sludge at an alternative site. As low-level radioactive waste, it will have to be taken to a licensed facility, such as American Ecology in Richland, WA, until treatment can be altered to remove the uranium separately.

In a ruling this summer, the Spokane federal district court found the mining companies liable for $15 million in EPA investigative costs and future site cleanup costs. The 2006 approved cleanup plan calls for moving and covering over 33 million tons of waste rock to prevent formation of acid drainage. Future cleanup costs are estimated at $150 million.

Perchlorate Period Extended

By request, EPA extended time for public comment on its preliminary regulatory determination not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water at a national level to Nov. 28. The initial comment period on the decision was to expire Nov. 3. The agency announced Oct. 3 that the move was based on the fact its survey "found that in more than 99 percent of public drinking water systems, perchlorate was not at levels of public health concern." With fewer than 1% of drinking water sources at perchlorate levels above the health reference level, EPA set an action level of 15 ppb and was encouraging states to make their own determinations based on local measurements. With so many detection sites nationally DOD related, expect lawsuits to fly on this one.

Indians, Oil & Wells

EPA began delegating key groundwater protection responsibilities to Indian tribes. It approved the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes' underground injection control (UIC) program, making the Montana tribes first in the nation to assume the program to protect underground drinking water sources. They'll administer and enforce their own Class II injection well program under the Safe Drinking Water Act, regulating all such existing and future wells on the reservation. The 24 Class II injection wells now on there are used to dispose of brines produced at oil wells. EPA also authorized the Navajo Nation to administer a similar program that will apply to 400 existing oil and gas Class II injection wells on its tribal lands.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for more than 10 years. Crow is now a Houston, TX-based freelance writer.Recent EPA Headlines
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