MAC: Mines and Communities

The US Bureau of Land Management has sacked an environmental investigator who revealed dangerous lev

Published by MAC on 2004-11-12

The US Bureau of Land Management has sacked an environmental investigator who revealed dangerous levels of toxics at an abandoned mine site, formerly operated by Atlantic Richfield (itself now owned by BP)

Anaconda Mine Manager Files Whistleblower Complaint

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 12, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC, - Earl Dixon's lawyer says he was too good at his job of pursuing environmental compliance at Nevada's Anaconda Mine, and that is why he was fired by his superior at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

On Thursday, Dixon filed a whistleblower complaint under several federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, Superfund, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"Earle Dixon's job was to solve the pollution problems, not disguise them," said attorney Richard Condit, general counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), whose organization will assist Dixon's lead counsel, Mick Harrison, in prosecuting the whistleblower claim. "From this record, it appears BLM removed Earle Dixon simply because he did environmental compliance too well," Condit said.

The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid run-off and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other exposed metals have been disposed in unlined ponds. The mine has also had a succession of owners, including the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Today, half the site is located on public lands managed by the BLM.

Dixon's job was to coordinate the hazardous waste management and compliance at the site with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Nevada, tribes and responsible private parties.

Dixon claims in his complaint that he was illegally dismissed for pursuing worker safety, as well as radiation, air and water pollution violations.

Dixon says his superior, BLM Nevada Director Bob Abbey, was unwilling to confront mounting evidence of contamination and worker exposure because dealing with them would drive up remediation costs.

Radiation readings were well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite, Dixon claims. He documented higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells; and non- compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including possible public exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air-borne dust. With Dixon's removal, oversight of the Anaconda Mine has been moved from the BLM Carson City Office to the BLM state headquarters in Reno.

"Such a move is an unprecedented political intervention in a hazardous waste cleanup operation and reflects a retaliatory motive by the BLM State Director," said Harrison.

Dixon's complaint triggers an immediate federal investigation and, if the matter is not resolved in 30 days, a full evidentiary hearing before a federal administrative law judge will be scheduled.

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