lead

Cleaning up Coeur d'Alene

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman highlights the history behind a $1.79 billion bankruptcy settlement between the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), owner of the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead from the mines helped fuel World War II's barrage of bullets and Idaho's economic trajectory, but the mine owners knowingly emitted large amounts of lead into the environment, though they could have fixed the emissions control.

Instead, they pursued record profits while poisoning the air with a substance known to make children fidgety, dumb and brain damaged.  The Kellogg mine was on the Coeur d'Alene river, which drains into Lake Coeur d'Alene, which along with the upper reaches of the Spokane River is now one of the nation's largest Superfund sites.

Now, the mine's waste tailings, full of heavy metals like cadmium, spread into Washington, and the state and the E.P.A.'s work is not done.  $435 million of the settlement is set aside specifically for Bunker Hill.  The clean up of the mines is revving Idaho's economic engine now, attracting another $15-20 million in stimulus funds from the Obama Administration.

Read University of Idaho Associate Professor Katherine Aiken's excellent history of the Bunker Hill mine, whose owners were embroiled in Watergate, giving illegal contributions to the EPA to influence its decisions, rather than spending the money on cleaning up the toxic legacy they had left to Idaho and Washington's children.

Feds dump mine waste in Idaho flood plain

The Northwest News Network produced this fantastic story for KUOW News about how the federal stimulus package has sped up the disposal of arsenic- and lead-contaminated mine spoils on a flood plain off I-90 in Northern Idaho.

The East Mission Flats Repository is a Superfund site designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive the remains of Idaho's toxic mining history despite being in a floodplain inundated just last year.  Community groups are concerned that the area will flood again, spreading more toxic metals into state waters.

The pile of waste will stand up to 34 feet high within view from where Idaho's oldest building stands in the Old Mission State Park, sacred to both the Coeur d'Alene Indians and the Jesuits.

Yakima schools combat contaminants with dirt

Two elementary schools in Yakima are getting new layers of dirt for their playgrounds to cover arsenic- and lead- tainted soil, reports Adriana Janovich of the Yakima Herald-Republic. The contaminants stem from pesticides once used on orchards that grew on the sites on which the schools were built. Lead can cause neurological problems with chronic exposure, and arsenic is a known carcinogen, according to the EPA. The levels  at both schools exceed the EPA's maximum limits. Construction is being done during the summer to prevent distractions to students, but the other six local schools in need of work will have to wait until at least next summer.

– Emily Linroth