Even though the state has declined prior attempts at declaring the site as contaminated, due to the fear of massive property value losses, EPA is trying to help with the cleaning of Nevada’s toxic copper mine by attempting to add it in the Superfund National Priority List. If this plea goes through, the Yerington mine will be declared one of the most contaminated sites in the US and cleaning plans will be 90% funded by the federal government.
The mine has been around since World War II and it currently houses over 90 million gallons of acidic solution that pose a massive threat to the groundwater. Even if this is the case, the Republican leaders of the state have been thorough in their denial when it came to the designation of the site as a contaminated area, although this is common knowledge in the region.
The estimated cost of cleaning the area reaches $30 million and up to this point, no private investors have been found. The state’s leader has claimed that currently, discussions are underway with local farmers and businesses in order to agree if the state itself should fund the cleaning plans or if this plan is impossible without any federal funding.
The Yerington mine was built in 1941 and was acquired by Atlantic Richfield in 1977. The parent company is none other than BP America, which has already faced numerous complaints from environmental activists in recent years, more specifically aimed at BP Oil.
A 2011 lawsuit filed by the residents of the region in regards to the concealment of the amount of pollutants being linked into the state’s natural water supply was settled at $19.5 million. But even after this settlement, the uranium and arsenic leakages have still not stopped.
The 6 square mile mine produced uranium as a byproduct of copper mining. This radioactive pollutant was dumped into holes with dirt lining, a fact that eventually caused the pollution of groundwater. Over 79% of the wells located north of the mine were declared unsafe due to their levels of uranium and arsenic poisoning.
In cases where the wells were only half a mile away, the poisoning levels reached were 10 times more than the legal drinking water standards. Inside the 6 square mile region, levels passed 100 times the normal standards. The effects of uranium and arsenic poisoning are still not yet completely understood, but prolonged exposure to these elements is known to lead to an increase in cancer risk and kidney failure.
The problem currently on the Republican party’s mind is that the previously estimated value of $30 million will be enough to fund the cleaning of only the region that poses the highest risk of contamination, not the entire area. Even so, the EPA asks the state to allow the mine to be put under the Superfund nonetheless, taking into account that the federal government will help with the funding almost completely. In addition to this, no other option to solve this problem currently exists, apart from ignoring the mine altogether, alongside its threat towards the surrounding environment.
Because the EPA is trying to help with the cleaning of Nevada’s toxic copper mine by urging the state to allow Yerington to be designated as a highly contaminated area, the state has until the 29th of January to provide a formal response. If Nevada will either accept or decline EPA’s help once again, we will see next month.