MAC: Mines and Communities

Roundup on Mining in USA

Published by MAC on 2005-11-09

Roundup on Mining in USA

As the Bush regime slashes funds for nuclear/uranium waste "containment" the Western Shoshone reassert their treaty-based rights to prevent construction of the Yucca mountain repository. Some small headway is also made in cleaning up a mercury mine, and environmental groups in West Virgina are planning to use federal legislation to halt moutaintop removal for coal.

Six Year Mercury Cleanup Completed in California's Tomales Bay

November 9, 2005

Environemtnal News Service (ENS)

SAN FRANCISCO, California - A cleanup and restoration project at the site of the biggest contributor of elemental mercury to Tomales Bay has been completed after six years.

Soil erosion and runoff from the abandoned Gambonini Mine, a 12 acre site on a steep hillside that drains to Salmon Creek, a tributary of Walker Creek on the north side of Tomales Bay, was sending as much as 180 pounds of mercury per year into the creek and bay as recently as 1999.

The remediation took the combined efforts of the Marin Conservation Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The multi-media cleanup effort initiated that year by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board and U.S. EPA has dramatically reduced the amount of mercury washing down from the mine site. A forthcoming technical report from the water board will detail the reduction of mercury in the creeks.

“We applaud the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Marin Conservation Corps for their success in restoring this site,” said Alexis Strauss, director of the U.S. EPA’s Water Division in the Pacific Southwest Region.

In addition to the grading and filling of eroded areas of the site, where mining ceased in 1970, low-tech, relatively inexpensive erosion control techniques and revegetation of the area with native plants played major roles in the successful remediation of the site.

Local participants in the work included the Marin Resource Conservation District, which contributed initial fieldwork and identified sediment sources on the site; and members of the Marin Conservation Corps, who provided much of the hand labor required for bioengineering, revegetation, and erosion control, all of which were critical components of the restoration project.

“This project provided corps members with the opportunity to learn about erosion control, mercury mining and environmental science concepts. It gave educational opportunities well beyond vocational training coming from extensive power tool use,” said Marilee Eckert, executive director of the Marin Conservation Corps.

The revegetation plan, which included soil remediation and development of a seed palette and local seed bank for the project as well as extensive planting, was developed by the state Department of Conservation and Department of Forestry. Local groups such as Circuit Rider Productions and the Marin Motorcycle Association contributed labor and expertise at various stages of the project.

“All of the agencies and organizations working on this project benefited from the collaboration,” says Dyan Whyte, senior geologist at the Water Board whose graduate research in the area quantified the mercury coming off the site and spurred the overall project.

“The results in terms of mercury reduction seem to be exceeding all of our expectations, Whyte says. This has been a very rewarding project to work on, and what we’ve learned should be useful in many other watersheds where former mercury mines are causing major problems for water quality.” Mercury has been known to have toxic effects on humans and wildlife. Mercury is a toxic metal and a natural element, commonly seen as a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid metal.

Mercury is a toxic persistent, bioaccumulative pollutant that affects the human nervous system. Methyl mercury is a chemical species that bioaccumulates in fish.

Fish consumption advisories are in effect for mercury in thousands of lakes and rivers.

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