Friday, February 22, 2019

50 million gallons of polluted water flows from mines daily

U.S. mining sites discharging polluted water
(Associated Press map; click in image for a larger version)
Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated," Matthew Brown reports for The Associated Press. "That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting water supplies in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states."

For more than a century, companies that mine hardrock minerals such as silver or lead routinely failed to properly clean up mines once they closed, or forced taxpayers to pay for the cleanup. An AP examination of 34 federally regulated mining sites, which include hundreds of individual mines, shows that, on average, more than 50 million gallons of polluted wastewater flows daily from the sites. About 20 million gallons of that streams daily into groundwater, rivers and ponds and threatens communities' drinking water. "The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement," Brown reports.

Pollution at many of the mines has continued for decades after they were given federal funding to clean up; the Superfund program that allocates such funds faces steep budget cuts from President Trump, Brown reports.

Some federal officials fear that at least six of the sites AP examined could unleash disasters like the one at Colorado's Gold King Mine. In 2015, "A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleanup crew inadvertently triggered the release of 3 million gallons (11.4 million liters) of mustard-colored mine sludge, fouling rivers in three states," Brown reports.

There are as many as 500,000 abandoned mines nationwide, and the Government Accountability Office estimates at least 33,000 have polluted the environment. But thousands of abandoned mines are discovered every year, and federal officials haven't been able to keep up with the backlog. "Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands," Brown reports. "Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million."

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