Idaho has demonstrated for more than a century that it is unwilling and incapable of correcting the pollution of the Spokane River basin. In the 1980s the Idaho Legislature withheld funding from the state Attorney General's lawsuit to recover damages from mining companies. Idahoan Robie Russell, appointed to head the EPA's regional office with help from Idaho politicians, used his power within EPA to thwart clean-up of communities poisoned by mining and smelting pollution. Idaho, belatedly, has proposed spending $500 million - a step forward, but still far short of a comprehensive clean-up proposal.
Idaho's Congressional members continue to "shoot the messenger" - viciously attacking EPA officials to pressure them against a comprehensive clean-up, and working to eviscerate Superfund law.
On the Washington side of the state line, responses to the pollution contrast sharply with Idaho. Agencies moved quickly to inform the public that fish and beaches are polluted, issuing health advisories and posting signs along the river. Washington Governor Gary Locke responded to a health advisory in June, "The evidence continues to mount that the long-time mining practices in Idaho are creating health and environmental threats downstream in our state. And it further illustrates the need for a full and thorough Superfund cleanup in the Spokane River basin."
Local and regional business leaders fear adverse publicity from a Superfund label. A recent court decision, however, supports EPA's ability to expand the clean-up and use Superfund dollars without labeling the 1,500 square mile basin a "Superfund Site." Despite business leaders' concerns about publicity, Idaho politicians are moving the Coeur d'Alene to center stage as a "poster child" for pitched battles in Congress over the nation's pollution laws.
The lakes and rivers of the region are celebrated and held dear by the people who live here. Indeed a world's fair was held at the waterfall and islands of the Spokane River. Expo '74 was the first international exposition to celebrate the environment. Expo '74 was a watershed event, reconnecting the community to the river, and marking the flowering of an environmental ethic in the Spokane region.
In the spring of 1974 - while lead from smelter smokestacks in Kellogg, Idaho, was causing perhaps the worst epidemic of childhood lead poisoning of its kind in history - finishing touches were placed on Expo '74. On May 4, eighty-five thousand people gathered at Spokane Falls for the opening ceremonies. On a stage floating in the Spokane River, Danny Kaye spoke on behalf of all the children of the world and the importance of our environment. His statement is a fitting, uplifting closure to this sordid Idaho story of pollution:
We believe that the universe is a grand design in which man and nature are one.
That planet earth, a small part of the universe, is the residence of mortal man whose needs and aspirations are limited by the finite resources of planet earth and man's own finite existence.
That man is the custodian of his environment as the environment is the custodian of man.
That man, in his growing wisdom, will renounce the age-old boast of conquering nature, lest nature conquer man.
That the skies and the seas and the bountiful earth from which man draws his sustenance are the preserves of all mankind and that in the brotherhood they derive from nature, the nations of the earth will join together in the preservation of the fragile natural heritage of our planet.
We believe -
In the restoration of the reverence of nature which once filled our own land where the American Indian roamed in respectful concert with his environment.
We believe -
That the human spirit itself must set its own limitations to acheive a beauty and order and the diversity that will fill the hearts of the children of the world with a new and happier vision of their destiny.
That from this City of Spokane there goes forth today to the world the message and challenge that the time of great environmental awakening is at hand.
All this we believe.
Spokane River basin cleanup
OLYMPIA - "The evidence continues to mount that the long-time mining practices in Idaho are creating health and environmental threats downstream in our state. And it further illustrates the need for a full and thorough Superfund cleanup in the Spokane River basin.
"Our citizens should be able to fish and swim without worrying about contaminated sediments and fish in the Spokane River basin.
"I am more convinced than ever that Washington needs to remain closely involved in decisions made about the cleanup in Idaho and Washington."
Contact: Governor's Communications Office
June 20, 2000
Agencies warn of lead in river's fish
Advisory targets consumption of contaminated fish caught in stretch of Spokane river
By Karen Dorn Steele, Staff writer
A sweeping new health advisory warns pregnant women and small children not to eat whole fish caught in the Spokane River from the Idaho state line to the Seven Mile Bridge because the fish contain elevated lead levels.
The news prompted Washington Gov. Gary Locke to renew his call for a thorough cleanup of historic mining pollution in the Spokane River.
Parents should also limit children's consumption of Spokane River fish fillets, which are less dangerous than whole fish, the Washington departments of Health and Ecology and the Spokane County Regional Health District said Tuesday.
The fish warning is a consequence of a two-year joint federal-state study of the river's health. Rainbow trout, whitefish and large-scale suckers were caught for the study.
The river survey also found elevated levels of cadmium, arsenic, zinc and lead in sediments near popular beaches in the Valley. The heavy metals have washed downstream during a century of mining in Idaho.
"Lead is the metal we are most concerned about," said John Roland of Ecology's regional office in Spokane.
"Elevated levels of lead can be especially harmful to children because it can cause changes in their behavior and reduce their ability to learn," he said.
Large-scale suckers were the most-contaminated fish in the river, but the whole bodies of trout and whitefish also showed worrisome lead levels, the study found.
State health officials decided to issue the whole-fish warning because a 1998 Spokane Regional Health District survey showed some immigrant groups in Spokane fish the river heavily.
Russians and other immigrants said they use the whole fish, including bones and internal organs, in fish stews. The lead concentrates in the bones and brains, the fish study showed.
"They said they eat whole fish often enough to cause us some concern," said Michael LaScuola of the regional health district.
Children and the fetuses of pregnant women are especially vulnerable to lead because they are growing rapidly, LaScuola said.
Copies of the health advisory, which contains recommended fish consumption levels, are available at the health district at (509) 324-1560.
It warns parents to limit monthly meals of children under 5 to three eight-ounce rainbow trout filets, six servings of sucker or 13 servings of whitefish.
"Children should not eat whole fish or any meals prepared using whole fish," the advisory says.
The tainted fish are more ammunition for regional groups urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to extend a Superfund cleanup of mining contamination in Idaho into Washington.
The EPA has said it will incorporate the fish survey into a "remedial investigation and feasibility study" of mining pollution from Idaho to Lake Roosevelt.
In February, the EPA said lead contamination on the shores of the Spokane River in the Valley poses a "moderate risk" to children who swim, picnic and fish.
Lead levels on the beaches in the eastern-most 10-mile stretch of the river in Washington range from 357 to 1,410 parts per million on average, with peaks up to 2,360 parts per million.
The average background lead level throughout the United States is 23 parts per million, while average lead levels on the beaches of Lake Coeur d'Alene are less than 400 ppm, EPA studies show.
Meanwhile, Locke wants the EPA to deal with the Spokane River contamination. He recently wrote EPA Administrator Carol Browner about the need for a Washington state presence in regional negotiations over the mining pollution.
He issued another statement Tuesday on the heels of the new fish advisory.
"Our citizens should be able to fish and swim in the Spokane River without worrying about contaminated sediments and fish," Locke said.
"The evidence continues to mount that the longtime mining practices in Idaho are creating health and environmental threats downstream in our state," Locke said.
The Spokesman-Review, June 21, 2000. Copyright 2000,
The Spokesman-Review. Used with permission of The
By Jim Lynch of The Oregonian staff
SPOKANE Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene narrows to a piling-lined 75-foot-wide chute that turns, without fanfare, into the Spokane River and moseys out of sight into Washington.
The aquatic passage between the states is so subtle that many residents on both sides of the state line don't realize that the lake mothers the river. But officials are trying to pound the connection into the public psyche these days.
Signs are popping up along the riverbanks warning that some of its popular beaches are polluted with crushed metals scratched from north Idaho mines. More signs are expected soon to warn that its rainbow trout and other fish are contaminated, too.
The Spokane River, which slashes through Washington's second-biggest city, may become the next Northwest river to become a federal Superfund cleanup project. It also may be one of the region's most difficult messes to resolve.
Unlike the Willamette and most other sullied rivers, the Spokane's pollution is rooted in another state and nearly impossible to get rid of any time soon. Plus, Idaho and Washington, often prickly neighbors, appear to be bracing to brawl over the issue.
"Longtime mining practices in Idaho are creating health and environmental threats in our state," Washington Gov. Gary Locke announced late last month after being briefed on a study showing lead, cadmium and zinc in fish caught all the way from the Idaho line to the river's confluence with the Columbia River about 60 miles downstream. "It illustrates the need for a full and thorough Superfund cleanup in the Spokane River basin."
Most prominent Idaho politicians are bent on getting state control of the Superfund project that, at this point, is limited to a 21-mile box around the core mining district. Their biggest fear is that the cleanup project will continue to expand to the point it brands a large swath of north Idaho, some of the state's premier tourism turf, as one giant Superfund site.
On Wednesday, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne announced that three mining companies have pledged to spend $250 million toward a 30-year cleanup of the Coeur d'Alene River Basin in exchange for protection from litigation.
Kempthorne urged federal officials to accept the plan and wrap up negotiations within 60 days to get the cleanup started without lengthy legal wrangling.
That would be before the EPA completes its study of the entire basin, including the Spokane River, in an investigation that will shape the future Superfund cleanup plan. The EPA study is slated to conclude next spring.
It's been known for years that Lake Coeur d'Alene, one of Idaho's premier tourism draws, is somewhat deceptive; the bottom of the sprawling, pristine-looking lake harbors a motherlode of pollution created by a century of silver, lead and zinc mining.
And it isn't a revelation that some of the metals overflow into the Spokane River. It just hadn't ever been well documented how that happens, and how often. That changed with a series of federal and state studies in the past two years.
First, the U.S. Geological Survey discovered a surprisingly efficient lake current that shuttles mining waste from the polluted mouth of the Coeur d'Alene River to the source of the Spokane River even during non-flood seasons.
Then lead and arsenic were detected on beaches along the easternmost stretch of the Spokane River in Washington. Most recently, a study found lead, cadmium and zinc in fish caught in the river.
"The evidence that is building is overwhelming," says John Roland, project director for the Washington Department of Ecology. "I believe the public is starting to grasp what's going on, and the magnitude of it."
New public health warnings released late last month announced that children and pregnant women should limit the amount of river-caught fish they eat and minimize contact with soil along some beaches because of potentially hazardous levels of arsenic, a carcinogen, and lead, known to slow mental development in children.
The news irks many Spokane residents who sometimes feel victimized by geography; downwind from Mount St. Helens and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation; downriver from one of the world's former mining hubs.
Plus, the Spokane River is the scenic centerpiece and oasis for the 400,000 people in the area, including legions of rafters, fly fishing enthusiasts and swimmers who frequent the dozens of beaches along its banks.
On a recent evening, Justin Miller pulled his kayak out
at the Barker Road beach where arsenic levels measured three
higher than normal background levels in Spokane.
Is Miller worried about pollution in the river?
"Big time," he says, displaying the earplugs and noseplugs he wears to keep the water out. "I try not to spend too much time on this river," he says, then tells his friend to not let his dog drink the river water.
Not everyone is concerned. And many still haven't heard the news flashes or read the signs.
Pat Lonam supervised three children wading in a copper-colored eddy near the state line where lead was detected at unsafe levels and higher than any other beach on the river.
Lonam says lead fears haven't discouraged her neighbors from swimming. "We've all been going in the river for years."
But she hasn't seen the new sign and, given more information, begins to look concerned, noting the baby she's cradling went in the water, too. She groans, then says, "I'm going to go read the sign."
Spokane health officials are scrambling to translate fish warnings into Russian and possibly other languages to make sure the city's immigrants are aware of the health risks, too. Russians are of particular concern because they often cook whole fish in stews - and lead often settles in organs and bones.
Holly Houston, a spokeswoman for Idaho's mining interests, says Washington's governor overstated or misread the health advisory - which she calls "not that big of a deal" and unfairly scapegoats Idaho and its mining companies for the river's pollution.
She also suggests Locke's comments hint at a future lawsuit Washington may try to file against Idaho's mining outfits. "I think you're going to find out that Washington state is not going to have enough evidence to pursue injuries or damages against the companies," she says.
Idaho's monument to the side-effects of a century of mining could be the massive raised wedge of mine tailings and polluted soil stacked alongside Interstate 90 in Kellogg.
Blood tests tell the story, too. Last year, 16 percent of 1- to 6-year-olds tested in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin showed elevated amounts of lead in their blood, according to a state contractor.
There also are dead, lead-poisoned swans near Harrison, but what the tailings did and continue to do to the Coeur d'Alene River, its flood plains, Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Spokane River isn't easy to eyeball. But there are hints. On one high runoff day in 1996, the Geological Survey estimates, 1 million pounds of lead flowed into the lake.
There are an estimated 70 million tons of contaminated sediments in Lake Coeur d'Alene. Another 70 million tons is estimated to hang above it in the river system.
A citizen activist campaign led by The Lands Council in Spokane is urging Spokane residents and state officials to seize the moment and demand that the river and the entire Coeur d'Alene basin be included in long-range cleanup plans.
"This is our biggest opportunity for cleanup in 100 years and perhaps our only one," says Michelle Nanni, director of the council's Get the Lead Out project, which helped spark the state's interest and involvement in the issue.
"This is it. It'll never happen again. It's now or never. Now's the time to voice our opinion."
Art Bookstrom, who has studied the Spokane River for the Geological Survey, says it's hard for anyone to grasp the complexities and depths of the problem.
"It's not like you're going to clean up once and be done with it," he says. "You could spend a lot of money and clean it up and in a few years it'd be right back where it was."
Potential cleanup options include removing polluted soils, stabilizing stream banks and capping the deadliest deposits. But as Bookstrom points out, uncovering or disturbing imbedded tailings can create more problems than it resolves.
"Unless someone figures out a way to fix this," Bookstrom says, "it could go on for hundreds, or even thousands, of years."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach Jim Lynch at The Oregonian's Puget Sound bureau at 360-867-9503, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission. The Oregonian, Thursday, July 6, 2000, Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.
Dawn Tudor, 9, plays at Boulder Beach, a popular swimming hole on the Spokane River east of downtown Spokane. The riverbank has potentially hazardous levels of arsenic and lead.
Los Angeles Times, Page A1
A Deep and Wide Mining Scar in Idaho
Many thought cleanup was nearing its end, but pollutants have spread throughout the beautiful Coeur d'Alene River basin.
By Kim Murphy, Times Staff Writer
SILVER VALLEY, IdahoThis is a pollution story that's supposed to be over. The Environmental Protection Agency in 1982 declared the 21 square miles around the old Bunker Hill lead smelter the nation's second-largest Superfund site. Since then, the agency has spent $200 million digging up contaminated lawns, demolishing the smelter site and cleaning up parks, roadsides and schools.
Mining contamination has spread far beyond the original Superfund site, to include the Coeur d'Alene River basin and into eastern Washington. To the right, lead levels in select locations:
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Environmental Quality
Children living miles away from the Superfund site are being tested, with disturbing results: 11% of those under age 10, and 26% of the 2-year-olds, have lead in their blood above the federal intervention level.
Beaches as far away as the Spokane River in Washington are so contaminated with metals originating high in the Idaho hills that warning signs have been posted against playing in the sand. Children and pregnant women are cautioned not to eat whole fish caught near Spokane.
The fact that the EPA now considers the entire Coeur d'Alene River basin a potential Superfund site sets the stage for a political slugfest of epic proportions.
More than 11,000 people live in the Coeur d'Alene Valley and 300,000 or more across the Washington state line in Spokane. The Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe, which says its historic dependence on the basin's waters for survival is at risk, has filed a massive federal lawsuit seeking compensation for the environmental devastation.
And at the heart of the basinand the controversyis Lake Coeur d'Alene, one of Idaho's premier tourism destinations, with its stunning azure waters and top-rated golf course.
The lake is clean enough to meet federal drinking water standards, and all but two of its beaches have been deemed unpolluted. Officials estimate, however, that 72 million tons of mining pollutants lie dormant on the lake bottomwith more seeping in every day.
It will take 20 to 30 years to reverse the damage across the entire basin, federal officials say, at a cost of $1 billionand possibly more than $3 billion.
Mark Solomon of the Inland Empire Public Lands Council leaps across the flooded banks of the Coeur d'Alene River. Mining companies dumped toxic waste directly into the river up through the 1960s.
Nowhere have the complexities of the Superfund law been more apparent than in northern Idahowhere mining pollution dates back to the 1880s, involves scores of companies that long since have disappeared and includes pollution so extensive and intermingled that it would be nearly impossible to trace it to a direct source.
Moreover, the federal government shares part of the blame: The War Department pushed so hard to boost lead production in the Silver Valley during World War II that it dispatched troops to work in the mines. State and federal pollution controls were virtually nonexistent.
In Idaho, Republicans hold the governorship, the entire congressional delegation and 90% of the state Legislature. And so the EPA move into the basin is just one in a series of Clinton administration environmental initiativesranging from wolf relocation to designation of vast areas of central Idaho as permanent roadless areasthat have been a source of irritation.
Sen. Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho) has called for an investigation of the EPA. State officials say they can do the cleanup themselves for little more than the $250 million the mining companies recently offered as a settlement.
"Superfund was intended to clean up 20-acre industrial sites. Superfund is not intended for a 1,500-square-mile region," said Bret Bowers of Citizens for EPA Accountability Now, organized to fight the Superfund expansion. "The EPA would like people to believe we have this major health concern, when the fact is we should be celebrating the vast gains we have made [inside the existing Superfund site]. . . . We have community leaders up and down the basin saying we know the Superfund process is a mess and we don't want to go through it."
EPA officials say they are mystified that Idaho appears to be turning away its only hope of a comprehensive, basinwide cleanuppaid for primarily by the mining companies and federal taxpayers.
Shoshone County, where most of the affected communities lie, has seen its assessed value drop from $1.3 billion to $450 million since the Bunker Hill smelter closed in 1982. The county has the highest child poverty level in the stateapproaching 31% of all childrenand an unemployment rate of 12.3%.
"These communities are in extreme disrepair, predominantly retired citizens, low tax base. These people might have a street budget that's a hundred thousand bucks a year, and they've got a 1956 Ford dump truck to deal with it," said Earl Liverman, head of the EPA's field office in Coeur d'Alene.
How, Liverman wants to know, are little towns like Wallace, Osborn, Cataldo and Harrison going to deal with lead, cadmium and zinc still washing down off the hills above them? With lead continuously eroding off the riverbanks, lead poisoning their yards, playgrounds and day-care centers, lead permeating the dust in their attics?
"The community's concerns [about the pitfalls of a Superfund designation] have not fallen on deaf ears. I hear them on a daily basis. My wife hears it; my children hear it," Liverman said. "But this stuff is ubiquitous throughout the valley, and it poses a significant threat to human health."
The slopes of the Silver Valley have been probed for ore since the 1880s, with the four largest silver mines in the country still operating there. More than $5 billion worth of metals have been unearthed.
Up through the 1960s, mining firms dumped toxic waste directly into the river. The smelter poured lead out of its smokestack, denuding surrounding hills and depositing fine bits of lead dust on yards, carpets, sofas, roads, roofs and trees for miles. When fire swept through part of the Bunker Hill facility in 1973, destroying many of the filters that took lead out of the exhaust, Gulf Resources and Chemical Co. decided to keep running without pollution controls.
In handwritten notes uncovered later, company executives calculated it would cost them $7 million to compensate any children poisoned by leada fraction of what they would earn that year with skyrocketing lead prices. That year alone, the smelter deposited 30 tons per square mile of lead over the surrounding neighborhoods.
A few years later, as the extent of the pollution became known, Gulf Resources transferred most of its assets overseas and declared bankruptcy, leaving behind a $100-million cleanup bill and stranding about 2,000 employees who were owed their pensions.
"You could go down any alley out there and have 'A Civil Action' or an 'Erin Brockovich,'" said regional Superfund director Mike Gearheard, referring to movies about citizens locked in battle with corporate polluters. "The only sad thing about going out there now is you don't get to appreciate the sort of Dickensian quality of the mining buildings that used to cascade down those hillsides: boiling, fuming, spewing fire and smoke."
Even in the smelter's heyday, doctors knew exposure to significant quantities of lead could cause reduced IQ, slow growth and development, hyperactivity, miscarriage, infertility, memory loss, stomachaches and hearing loss. Since then, the federal government has reduced the amount of lead that is considered safe by a factor of four. Now, a blood level of as little as 10 milligrams per 10 liters is enough to call for prompt intervention; researchers have documented a higher incidence of juvenile delinquency at levels as low as 2.5.
Marlene Yoss remembers officials coming to her door in the 1970s and asking to test her children's blood. Arlene, just a baby, had a lead level of 174. Her slightly older siblings measured 122 and 111. "They said we had three walking dead babies," Yoss recalled.
The mining company settled with the family for several million dollars, but Yoss said the money was never enough to compensate for the health of her children, now in their 20s. "They still have headaches, and their memory: Just remembering things from day to day, a period of time goes by and they can't remember."
"Some people call me 'lead head,'" joked a 43-year-old Kellogg man, George, who attended a school half a mile between the lead smelter and the zinc smelter. He remembers playing by the creek, which ran purple during parts of the year. "If you saw your kids playing in what I played in, you'd go out and get 'em and probably move. I did fairly well till seventh grade, and my grades dropped. . . . Pretty soon, I couldn't remember anything."
The Idaho attorney general filed suit against the mining companies for $50 million. But when the Legislature refused to fund the suit, the case was settled in 1986 for $4.5 million, less than 2% of what it cost to clean up the 21 square miles nearest the lead smelteran area known as "the box."
The initial Superfund project has cleaned up 1,600 yards in Kellogg and Smelterville. Workers dug out the top 12 inches of tainted soil, capped it with a fabric marker and replaced it with a foot of clean soil.
Parks and schoolyards were treated in a similar fashion. Old waste piles are being picked up and hauled into a 200-acre, 60-foot-tall impoundment area in Kellogg.
The results have been marked: Where 46% of the children inside "the box" had blood lead levels above 10 milligrams per 10 liters in 1988, only 6% are above that now.
But, cautioned Steve Allred, administrator of Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality: "We have a fragile removal. It will take significant [effort] to maintain it."
What that means is that most of the contamination wasn't removed; it was simply moved to areas where people would be less likely to come into contact with it. New problems could erupt as easily as someone digging below the fabric barrier in their yard into still-contaminated soil. Dust blowing in off untreated hillsides and waste piles poses a constant threat of recontamination.
Wes Aamodt, who owns a truck stop in Smelterville, says his property was declared clean when he bought it in 1994. But since then, lead-contaminated dust constantly blows over it, fouling air filters and shutting down his refrigerators. "You can't have a cafe and have the people eating this dust," he told the EPA at a hearing last month.
And while local health officials have loaned out industrial-strength vacuums to anyone who wants them, the greatest potential source of human lead exposure, household dust, has not been part of the cleanup.
In the rest of the basin, the worries are worse.
Yards, parks and playgrounds in towns like Mullan, Osborn and Wallaceup the river from the Superfund sitehave tested at several times above federal safety limits for lead. A chain of lateral lakes leading into Lake Coeur d'Alene is heavy with lead sediments.
In Burke Canyon, a rustic community that sits astride an old mining creek, several children have elevated blood lead levels. The EPA, even without an official Superfund designation, has moved quickly to try to clean up yards.
"Just half a mile from here, in any direction you go from my house, there are over 70 mine openings. And there's water coming out of most of them," said Charles Tirpik, a former miner who retired when he developed a degenerative spine disease.
"It's all full of lead, zinc. And it goes right into Canyon Creek. . . . They did some [cleanup] work down at the bottom, but it was just a bunch of political mumbo jumbo. I mean, they started at the bottom of the canyon and worked their way up! That's about like washing your car from the bottom up."
Down the road, Debra Wilson had her yard replaced when county officials found high blood lead levels in her daughters, ages 4 and 7.
"They say lead can affect learning disabilities. . . . Both of my girls were 36 weeks, and they were both learning delayed, they call it," Wilson said. "The special ed department says it could be because of lead or because they were early, or a combination of the two. Or it could be nothing."
Most of the contaminated schoolyards in the basin will be cleaned up by the end of this summer, but officials did little about the interior of schools. That is until Robert C. Huntley, a former member of the Idaho Supreme Court, went to court in March and won an order mandating testing.
Huntley took the order to the EPA, where officials told him they had no funding under the current plan. Next, he went to the governor's office, the state Department of Environmental Quality, the superintendent of public instruction and, finally, the three school districts involved. All refused to pay for the testing.
So Huntley paid the $6,292 to do the first tests out of his own pocket. The first results are due soon.
"It's really a Chamber of Commerce-type thing, where we don't want to admit we have a problem because it would have an adverse effect on tourism," Huntley said.
EPA and school officials downplay the problem, saying there is little chance of exposure in schools that are mopped twice a day.
"When you drive a car, there's lead in the battery that's less than 10 feet ahead of you. That's a risk factor. In our school district, we do not have an exposure factor with the children," said Robin Stanley, school superintendent in Mullan.
Local health officials have done everything possible to minimize the risk. Homeowners in yards that haven't been replaced with clean soil are advised not to grow root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes. Contractors who dig into contaminated soil after being ordered to halt can face fines of $300 a day and six months in jail. County nurses make regular visits to the schools, conducting puppet shows with frogs (The message: "Keep clean, eat clean and play clean."). Health officials scrutinize dust collected on doormats for contamination. Once a year, nurses go door-to-door for children's blood lead screenings.
There is one thing almost everyone can agree on: No one knows what the real lead exposure is because relatively few children have been tested under the voluntary program. Health officials recently raised the payment made to those who agree to blood tests from $20 to $40 to increase participation.
"There's a long list of things that are far greater risk [to children] than heavy metals," said state Sen. Jack Riggs, a physician who believes the EPA's efforts outside the existing Superfund site should be limited to a few isolated areas along the Coeur d'Alene River. For example, Riggs said, "there is older housing in the Silver Valley where lead paint is an issue. You can't just automatically conclude that it's all from meandering sediment."
The political and legal issues surrounding cleanup of the entire basin are formidable. In addition to jockeying over Superfund designation, there is the issue of how to assess legal liability. While Gulf Resources easily could be blamed for much of the pollution inside the box, at least four major companies and 22 minor companies are targets of the EPA's massive $1-billion liability lawsuit for pollution throughout the basin, scheduled to go to trial early next year.
The companies argue that 100 or more mining operations have generated waste over a period of a century or more, much of it long before there were environmental regulations prohibiting it. Much of the pollution stopped in the 1960s, a full decade before the Superfund law even was adopted, they say. And most of the companies that mined during the worst pollution years are long gone.
"We don't really know who's responsible for which materials. You've got a hundred different mining companies, and the ones who happened to survive are the ones who are being blamed," said Holly Houston of the Mining Information Center, which represents three of the four major mining companies still operating in the basin: Hecla, ASARCO and Sunshine.
Instead of spending $1 billion on cleaning up soil all over the basin, Houston said, the EPA should be finding children who have been exposed to lead, finding out where their exposure came from and stopping the problem at the source.
What about, the EPA counters, those children who haven't been exposed yet? The families who have not yet moved into a contaminated house?
EPA officials believe a recent federal appeals court decision gave them authority to begin Superfund cleanup throughout the 1,500-square-mile study area, wherever mining pollution has reached. It may be more practical, they admit, to set up individual cleanup sites in the areas of worst contamination.
And Washington Gov. Gary Locke has stepped into the fray, signaling the state's reluctance to depend solely on Idaho to clean up waters that flow across state lines.
Washington's stake in the issue is becoming increasingly clear. Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey found in the Spokane Riverabout 70 miles from the heart of the mining districtsome of the highest levels of metals ever recorded in freshwater fish in the state. In February, the EPA completed tests showing that levels of lead and arsenic at several beaches along the upper river pose a health risk.
Warning signs have been in place on those beaches for at least a year. But last week, a young Spokane family was swimming along the shore, escaping the oppressive heat of a July afternoon.
"I didn't even see the sign," said Michele Caudill of Spokane, whose children, ages 2, 8 and 13, were splashing each other along the river's shallow bank.
If she had read it, it would have told her to avoid muddy soil that might cling to clothing, toys, hands or feet; to wash hands if mud gets on them; to avoid breathing any dust from around the river; to wash any toys, shoes or clothing that have been in contact with shoreline soils before entering her home; to avoid eating without washing her hands; and to clean out her car if any soils from the riverbank got tracked into it.
Caudill shrugged. "When we were kids, we were in this river every day."
In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the "Bunker Hill Mining Site" on the National Priorities List (NPL), a list of the most contaminated sites in the nation. The list is maintained by the EPA pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). See 42 U.S.C. S 9601 et seq. The listing of the Bunker Hill site reflected widespread contamination caused by more than 100 years of mining and mining-related activity.
In March 1996, the United States filed an action against various owners and operators of mining and mineral processing facilities to recover, among other things, damages under CERCLA for injury to natural resources with respect to the "Bunker Hill facility" [defined as] the Coeur d'Alene Basin. The Coeur d'Alene basin includes the main stem and south fork of the Coeur d'Alene river, most of its tributaries, and Lake Coeur d'Alene, and constitutes an area of approximately 1,500 square miles.
Ruling on the cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court held that, while the initial listing on the NPL did not confer fixed boundaries on the Bunker Hill site, "at some point the EPA ha[d] to draw a line on what the EPA considers the NPL facility to be." United States v. Asarco, 28 F. Supp.2d 1170, 1180 (D. Idaho 1998). [T]he district court granted partial summary judgment to the defendants and denied partial summary judgment to United States.
We vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants and its denial of summary judgment to the United States on the statute of limitations issue, and remand with instructions to stay the proceedings for a reasonable period in order to permit the defendants to file a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
[For full text of the opinion, see http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/opinions+by+date?OpenView
click on year 2000, then click on June, search for decisions issued on 6/15/00 and click on US v. Asarco]
Zaz Hollander - Staff writer
Coeur d'Alene-A federal court dealt a blow Thursday to mining companies battling the federal government over pollution from Mullan, Idaho, to the Spokane River.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voided a 1998 ruling that blocked federal officials from expanding the 21-square-mile Bunker Hill Superfund site.
The panel also ruled the companies need to take their case against Superfund expansion in the Coeur d'Alene River basin to a Washington, D.C., courtroom.
Thursday's ruling means companies could be held responsible for cleaning up toxic metals pollution across 1,500 square miles of the basin, federal officials said. The Superfund program allows the government to use federal dollars for cleanup and seek damages from polluters.
Seattle-based Environmental Protection Agency officials exchanged a few "quiet high-fives" Thursday morning, one staffer said.
"This is obviously a very significant victory for not only the U.S. and EPA but the opportunity for achieving real cleanup in the Coeur d'Alene basin," said Cliff Villa, EPA assistant regional counsel.
But mining companies downplayed the court decision.
The opinion simply means the companies, led by Asarco Inc. and Hecla Mining Co., will have to start over in their bid to get a court ruling against Superfund expansion, an industry spokeswoman said.
"It's not saying the lower court was right or wrong. It just wants the right court to make the decision," said Holly Houston of the Mining Information Office in Coeur d'Alene. "EPA's been treating this whole area as a Superfund site spending their million dollars a month anyway."
The mines likely will contest this week's ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as directed by the 9th Circuit panel.The companies have 90 days to file a petition.
The D.C. circuit "has held that the EPA may at any time reassess site boundaries without engaging in notice and comment rule-making," according to the 9th Circuit opinion.
Avoiding new Superfund listings outside Bunker Hill has become a battle cry for Idaho politicians, mines and business interests because of economic losses linked to cleanup costs and the stigma of the cleanup program.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said the senator couldn't comment specifically on the ruling.
"The senator is opposed to any unilateral EPA actions which would expand Superfund cleanup designation outside the 21-square-mile box," Boise-based spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.
In December, the EPA gave the state of Idaho a June 30 deadline to avoid new Superfund designations.
But the 9th Circuit ruling could "potentially" erase the need for work toward new sites if the EPA can expand Bunker Hill to include the basin, Villa said.
State officials were not available for comment.
The case does not affect the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's 1991 lawsuit against the mines, though negotiations are under way to settle the lawsuit the federal government joined in 1996.
Houston said Thursday's ruling won't affect negotiations. But EPA's Villa said Thursday's ruling because it potentially sets the mines up for more cleanup costs should spur a settlement.
Talks are coming down to the wire, and the lawsuit goes to court in November, said Chuck Matheson, a Coeur d'Alene tribal council member and participant in numerous settlement talks.
The tribe favors settlement, but wants cleanup accomplished regardless of how it's funded, Matheson said.
"If it pushes them toward settlement, I think it'll be better for everybody, including them," he said. "I think they'll end up paying eventually."
EPA is continuing work on a massive study of basinwide contamination from Mullan to Washington's Lake Roosevelt to show the extent of pollution, and the risks it poses to people and the environment.
Zaz Hollander can be reached at (208) 765-7129 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The Spokesman-Review, June 16, 2000. Copyright 2000, The Spokesman-Review. Used with permission of The Spokesman-Review.
By Zaz Hollander, Staff writer
For the first time, the public is getting a glimpse of the extent of potential health risks caused by mining in the Coeur d'Alene River basin.
Roughly a quarter of the 2-year-olds tested in the basin have elevated amounts of lead in their blood, according to a draft study released this week by the state of Idaho.
"Those blood lead levels are significantly high," said Marc Stifelman, a toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The study evaluated risks from other heavy metals, and found the second primary chemical of concern after lead to be arsenic, which can cause cancer.
Anyone who eats homegrown vegetables, fish from the chain lakes of the Coeur d'Alene River, or works construction in leaded soil faces increased health risks, the study says.
To combat potential health effects, the study suggests a cleanup threshold for lead in people's yards starting between 400 and 800 parts per million.
About a quarter to a half of the roughly 1,000 yards tested in the basin contain that much lead, according to EPA estimates.
The study met with immediate criticism from mining companies and activists alike.
But officials, calling the document a first step, emphasized that a final cleanup decision is still far off.
Public comment, government policy makers and other data will influence the final strategy, said Rob Hanson, with the state Department of Environmental Quality in Boise.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's going to be between 400 and 800," Hanson said. "Look around the country, other action levels have been up to 1,200. I wouldn't say that's out of the question here."
For comparison, the cleanup threshold at the Bunker Hill Superfund site is 1,000 parts per million.
Young children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead, which can cause mental and physical retardation.
Lead in house dust - tracked in from contaminated yard soils - is the leading cause of high lead levels in children's blood, the study states.
Preschool age kids showed the highest levels of lead in blood tests for children between nine months and 9 years, the study shows.
Metals contamination stems mainly from mining pollution and partly from lead paint in older homes, the study says.
Areas with the highest contamination were side canyons between Bunker Hill and Mullan, the lower Coeur d'Alene River around Cataldo and Wallace.
The $550,000 study was funded by EPA, and federal scientists worked on it. A similar analysis of risks to the environment is due out later this summer.
The two studies will combine into a giant cleanup plan due out next year showing the extent of contamination and what steps are necessary to protect human and environmental health.
Mining companies disputed the call for yard cleanups based on scientific models.
The most efficient cleanup targets lead hotspots that are causing elevated blood leads in children, said Holly Houston, executive director of the Mining Information Office in Coeur d'Alene.
"It's meaningless. It still will not take care of the blood leads in kids, because it's focusing on yard removal," Houston said. "You don't just clean up a yard and assume it's safe."
A Spokane lead activist also faulted the study's use of scientific models to calculate risk.
"You can get whatever you want out of this data," said Michele Nanni, with The Lands Council. "It doesn't change the fact we should protect the most sensitive populations."
People who live in the basin - rather than visitors - face the greatest risk from contamination, the study shows.
People relying on subsistence lifestyles face the highest risk of cancer from arsenic, the study states.
Coeur d'Alene tribal members no longer dig for water potatoes in the shallow lateral lakes of the Coeur d'Alene River because of mining pollution.
The tribe asked the state to gauge the risks posed by subsistence lifestyles so that someday tribal food sources in the basin might be safe to eat again, said Jack Gunderman, a tribal biologist.
"There's still quite a few tribal members that would use that area if they knew it was clean," Gunderman said.
Last May, the EPA also released a similar analysis of risks posed by lead along Spokane River beaches in Washington state. The study identified four sites that pose possible risk to children.
By Zaz Hollander, Staff writer
COEUR d'ALENEResearchers have confirmed their suspicion that a muddy springtime plume cruising across Lake Coeur d'Alene carries Silver Valley mining pollution to Spokane.
The 30-foot-deep plume carried one-third of the lead it picked up from the Coeur d'Alene River into the Spokane River, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The data was released at an Environmental Protection Agency technical workshop last week.
With lead and other toxic metals showing up at potentially harmful levels along Spokane River beaches, the discovery that metals flow down-river from the Coeur d'Alene isn't exactly earth-shaking.
"It confirms what common sense has told us all along," said Bob Bostwick, press secretary for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, involved in an 8-year-old lawsuit against Silver Valley mines.
But Paul Woods, the lead USGS researcher, said this summer's data showed that metals move in the annual spring runoff plume surprisingly often.
Until now, scientists assumed only unusually heavy spring floods could push the plume across the lake. But this spring, runoff flowed from the mountains at rates seen every two or three years, Woods said.
Field crews spent two days in early June on the water, taking samples at eight sites including the mouth of the St. Joe River, where heavy metals are practically nonexistent. Data crunchers then figured out what the plume contained, including levels of lead, zinc and cadmium.
Lead showed up at 30 micrograms per liter at the mouth of the Coeur d'Alene near Harrison. Lead levels dropped during the trip across the lake due to metals falling out of the plume, dilution from the St. Joe and scientific error, Woods said.
At the outlet of Lake Coeur d'Alene into the Spokane River, lead still measured 10.5 micrograms per liter. A microgram is a millionth of a gram; a liter is a little more than a quart. Lead can cause mental and physical retardation, especially in young children.
A mining spokeswoman downplayed the importance of the findings. The amount of metals in the plume essentially matches EPA data already available, said Holly Houston, executive director of the Mining Information Office.
"I don't see these numbers as different from everything we've seen before," Houston said. "By the time they get to the outlet, you can see (lead) drops significantly, showing the majority settles out in the lake which is what people have been talking about."
The amount of lead found flowing into the Spokane River is within the 15 mg/l drinking water standards set at the tap, she said.
But Bostwick said the data underscores the need to get rid of mining pollution upstream.
"The damage from this is going to go on forever if it's not cleaned up," he said. "If you clean it up, you stop that plume."
By Karen Dorn Steele, Staff writer
Scientists studying the legacy of Idaho's mining pollution will zero in on four Spokane River beaches where elevated lead and arsenic levels pose hazards to recreationists.
The beaches are immediately downstream of the Idaho state line in the Spokane Valley.
They are contaminated with lead and arsenic flushed into the river from Lake Coeur d'Alene, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's draft human health risk assessment of the river.
At a public meeting tonight in Spokane, EPA officials will present their risk findings and outline plans for further sampling along the shoreline.
Sediments at River Road 95, the closest beach to the Idaho state line, contain lead at twice the levels considered safe for recreation and are also laced with cancer-causing arsenic at nearly three times the safe limit, the EPA report says.
Shawn Jacobson/The Spokesman-Review
The other beaches - at Harvard Road North, Barker Road North and Flora Road - have elevated arsenic levels, the EPA notes.
Lead is a developmental toxin that can cause behavior changes and mental retardation in children.
Swallowing water or soil that contains arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer in children and adults.
If the Spokane River beaches were private yards, Washington state's toxic waste cleanup rules would require a far stricter lead cleanup - to no more than 250 parts per million instead of the 700-ppm threshold the EPA has proposed for the beaches in the draft risk assessment.
"Our toxic cleanup standards don't apply to the Spokane River," said John Roland of the Washington Department of Ecology.
The EPA risk assessment assumes that children will visit the river beaches two days a week for 10 or more hours per visit from June through September.
Michelle Nanni, coordinator of the "Get The Lead Out" campaign for the Lands Council, a Spokane environmental group, encouraged people to attend tonight's meeting.
Public input "will help determine whether the heavy metals in the river and along the banks are cleaned up or whether we will be forced to just settle for health warning signs as protection for our children in the future," Nanni said.
The Lands Council wants the EPA to study more beaches because their contractor for the Spokane River study, the U.S. Geological Survey, detected elevated levels of heavy metals in other places along the river.
The discovery of the metals pollution prompted the Spokane Regional Health District to post warning signs along popular public beaches last year. The temporary signs became permanent this year.
Last month, regulators issued a new health advisory warning pregnant women and small children not to eat whole fish caught from the Idaho state line to the Seven Mile Bridge because the fish contain elevated lead levels.
The advisory also set limits on consumption of fish fillets for children and pregnant women.
The EPA risk assessment is part of a sweeping plan for mining pollution cleanup that may eventually extend from the Silver Valley in Idaho to Lake Roosevelt in Washington.
It includes an analysis of human health and ecological risks of the metals contamination, along with cleanup options for problem areas, such as the Spokane River beaches.
Basin-wide cleanup was given further impetus by a draft study released by the state of Idaho last week.
The study revealed that a quarter of all 2-year-olds in the Coeur d'Alene River basin have elevated amounts of lead in their blood.
The worst pollution was found in side canyons between Bunker Hill and Mullan and in the lower Coeur d'Alene River around Cataldo and Wallace, the study said.
The Idaho study recommended that hundreds of residents' yards be cleaned up to between 400 and 800 ppm.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the EPA can chase Superfund cleanups where pollutants "come to be located" - in this case, far downstream from the mines.
That opinion vacated a ruling by an Idaho federal judge, who had said the Superfund cleanup was restricted to the original 21-square-mile area near Kellogg where cleanup has been under way since 1992 and is due to be finished in about a year. That effort has cleaned up lead to 1,000 ppm in soils.
Idaho mining companies had argued the Superfund effort shouldn't be expanded because they are addressing the source of the pollution.
The EPA's draft human health risk assessment for the Spokane River can be seen on the Internet at http:// yosemite.epa.gov/r10/cleanup.nsf/sites/cda. Public comment on the document closes Aug. 18.
The Washington advisory committee will meet again at Ecology's Spokane office on Aug. 10 for decisions on the committee's formal comments to EPA.
The EPA study of the entire Coeur d'Alene Basin will wind up next spring.
Spokane Regional Health District
Washington State Department of Health
Washington State Department of Ecology
Table 1: Maximum
Fillet Meals for
Table 2: Maximum Whole
Fish Meals for
By Karen Dorn Steele, Staff writer
Fish caught by scientists in the upper Spokane River last year contain some of the highest levels of heavy metals ever measured in the state's rivers, new laboratory results show.
"The only other place that has cadmium, lead and zinc levels this high is in the upper Columbia, due to Cominco's pollution," said Art Johnson, an environmental specialist at the state laboratory in Olympia that tested the Spokane River fish.
Bottom-feeding suckers were up to 40 times more contaminated with lead than wild rainbow trout in the upper river, the data show.
But in many whole-body samples, both species showed elevated levels of lead compared with national averages.
Crayfish and caddis flies, food sources for the fish, also showed elevated lead levels.
The fish were taken from the Spokane River last July, August and October in a joint Washington Department of Ecology-U.S. Geological Survey expedition.
The work is part of a larger effort to determine the downstream damage to Washington resources from Idaho's historic mining pollution and to determine the Spokane River's overall health.
This week, the officials who directed the fish study said they haven't determined the health risks to the public of eating metals-contaminated fish.
Discussions with state and local health officials will begin within the next couple of days, said John Roland of Ecology's regional office in Spokane.
Spokane County health officials said Tuesday they hadn't seen the fish data yet.
But recent revelations of elevated lead and arsenic in shoreline sediments along the upper Spokane warrant further public warnings on signs along the river, said Michael LaScuola, the district's risk specialist.
"It'll be one heck of a sign, with the sediments and now the fish," LaScuola said.
Ecology recently sent the fish data on to the EPA "without the benefit of interpretation," according to a Feb. 16 Ecology memo.
That's because EPA is working on a tight deadline to examine the Spokane River's ecological health for its Superfund work, Roland said.
"We wanted their ecological risk assessment to have the benefit of this information, so we fast-tracked it," he said.
The EPA is expected to decide this spring how much more mining-related heavy metals cleanup should be done in the Coeur d'Alene Basin outside the 21-square-mile Superfund site at Kellogg.
The Spokane River fish study is the second pollution study with bad news for Spokane residents.
In fall 1998 and February 1999, another USGS team found heavily contaminated sediments in the same stretch of the upper Spokane.
The results surprised the EPA, which extended its risk assessment to the beaches along that stretch of the river.
Last July, Spokane's regional health district posted a health advisory at trail heads along the river warning that exposure to lead, cadmium and zinc is a health hazard for infants and children.
This month's fish results may give additional momentum to a push to extend the EPA's Superfund study far downstream into Washington.
The fish study results will be discussed Thursday at a meeting of the Washington Citizens Advisory Commission on mining pollution in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene watershed.
The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Ecology's regional office at 4601 North Monroe.
By Pia K. Hansen
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Draft Coeur d'Alene Basin Ecological Risk Assessment (ECORA) at the end of August. As expected, the draft's overall conclusion is that high concentrations of heavy metals are pervasive in the soil, sediment and surface water in the Basin, and that these chemicals pose substantial risks to the plants, animals and people that inhabit the area.
"You have to remember this is a draft document, so basically we shouldn't draw final conclusions from it," says Anne Dailey, the EPA environmental scientist who is in charge of the ECORA. "The way these draft documents work is that we are going get some input back, and then we'll try to come up with some conclusions."
The review period. for the ECORA runs through Oct. 6.
"We've already had input from a lot of different people, basically anybody we could think of," says Dailey. "Also people in the mining business, we've sent out a lot of documents to them and some have been at our work group meetings, but I wouldn't say there has been a substantial amount of participation on their behalf." But miners have plenty of opinions on the ECORA, its conclusions and the EPA's treatment of their businesses.
"The EPA is drawing its conclusions on false premises. There is precious little data to back up the things they are saying," Bob Hopper, who's owned and operated the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg for nine years. "All I'm saying is: Give me the data. Show me the results, show me the samples and show me where you got them because the EPA can't."
The field study that laid the ground for the ECORA is a very detailed sampling and analysis of more than 80 different animal and plant species, which were first determined to be representative for all the other thousands of species that inhabit the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Furthermore, says Dailey, some species were considered special-status, species that include federally listed endangered species and state listed sensitive plant species, or species that have a high cultural value, such as water potatoes. The results from these species were weighted heavier in the final conclusions.
Soil, sediment and surface water were evaluated by the EPA, but groundwater wasn't because animals and plants rarely come in contact with it. The plant risk assessment was based on the amount of heavy metals actually found in the plants.
Arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc and lead were the chemicals of potential ecological concern (COPECs) that the EPA tested for in both soil, sediment and surface water, and sediment was also tested for silver and mercury.
In all of the 24 bird species tested, risks to health and survival posed by at least one metal in at least one area of the Basin was found in all species. The same goes for the 18 mammals that were tested, with the only difference being that birds were at risk from specific COPECs (lead, zinc and cadmium). No single COPEC stands out as a dominant risk for the mammals.
"Nobody has ever really looked at it that closely with all these species," says Michele Nanni, spokeswoman for the Lands Council. "And the EPA is not just looking at mortality rates. They are looking at the risks to the creatures that are chronically exposed, and they are showing the impact even at a low level of exposure."
But Hopper is not convinced the ECORA is in any way scientifically valid, and he accuses the Lands Council and the EPA of ganging up and trying to influence legislators and policy-makers both in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene to take a stand against mining.
Actually, the Lands Council sued the EPA in June, together with the Idaho Conservation League, over the EPA's failure to issue total maximum daily load water quality plans for the Coeur d'Alene River System. Earlier on, both the Lands Council and several other environmental groups appealed to the EPA to take steps to enforce the Clean Water Act in the Basin, because they claimed the state of Idaho was reluctant to do so.
But Hopper stands his ground, refusing to believe that the only thing the Lands Council and the EPA has in common is the goal of protecting the environment.
"The EPA has an agenda, you bet they do," he says. "They are out to shut down all the mines, and there are so few of us left now they are getting ready for the final kill," says the miner, who mines silver, lead and zinc. "The EPA always gets what it wants."
For now, what the EPA wants is to come out with a feasibility study listing several cleanup options for the Basin by the end of the year.
Both Nanni and Dailey agree that this is where the ECORA is going to be of the greatest help.
"This draft really makes a strong case for cleanup," says Nanni. "There are going to be many different cleanup proposals that'll come up, because people have many different interests, but now we have a detailed study we can turn to. That's really going to help us."
1200 Sixth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
May 9, 2000
Ms. Carol M. Browner
Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20460
Dear Ms. Browner:
I am writing regarding the status of plans to cleanup the Coeur d'Alene River Basin and areas downstream of the Basin. I appreciate the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) efforts to work cooperatively with the State of Idaho, the State of Washington, the Congressional delegations, the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Colville Tribes, local government agencies, community groups and interested citizens on these complex and challenging issues.
Washington state has a considerable interest in expedient and thorough cleanup of contamination caused by decades of mining in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin, which drains into the Spokane River. As you know, recent sampling revealed elevated levels of heavy metals in the sediment and banks of the upper Spokane River. I am concerned about the possible human health and ecological impacts of exposure to these contaminants, and I strongly support cleanup of polluted areas as soon as possible.
At the request of Governor Kempthorne, in January of this year EPA delayed for six months proposing to list parts of the Coeur d'Alene River Basin on the National Priorities List (NPL). EPA agreed to wait to see if progress could be made in the State of Idaho's efforts to bring about a comprehensive settlement of the Basin cleanup claims. I understand the parties involved in the negotiations, which do not include Washington state, have not yet reached a binding agreement.
I also understand EPA recently extended its schedule to complete the Remedial Investigation/ Feasibility Study (RI/FS) and the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Coeur d'Alene River Basin. EPA now plans to release the final RI/FS in the summer or fall of 2001, instead of completing the study by December of this year. In addition, the agency has decided not to complete the study for the Upper Spokane River at this time.
I have concerns with the status and scope of these processes. First, I am concerned about continued delays in plans to develop a comprehensive strategy for cleaning up contamination caused by mining operations in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. While I appreciate the need to respond to stakeholders' requests, I am concerned about continued delays in the processes currently in place. These delays further delay cleanup of the Basin. The people of Washington state and Idaho deserve access to clean water, river beds and banks as soon as possible.
I believe it is important for all cleanup options to remain on the table. While I agree it is appropriate for states to take the lead in overseeing remediation of hazardous waste sites, I also believe it is crucial for states to ensure adequate funding for cleanup will be available. Mining activities in Idaho have caused downstream contamination in Washington state, and I want to ensure all potential funding sources remain an option. Given the breadth of contamination, cleanup of the Coeur d'Alene Basin and the Spokane River will be very expensive, and we may need to rely on Superfund for assistance.
As we search for solutions, we must remember the bi-state nature of the problem and develop strategies with this in mind. I am concerned Washington state does not have a role in the ongoing settlement negotiations. I am also concerned about EPA's decision not to focus on completing the RI/FS for the Upper Spokane River at this time. While removal and remediation of contamination in Idaho will reduce future influx of heavy metals into Washington state, it will not address cleanup of existing contamination within my state's boundaries.
I am sensitive to concerns about the stigma associated with expanding the Bunker Hill Superfund site to include other areas in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. However, I must point out there is also a stigma associated with river banks and stream beds laced with heavy metals. We must find the best way to leverage enough funding to clean up polluted areas in Idaho and Washington.
I am committed to working for continued bi-state leadership in addressing mining related pollution in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin and beyond, regardless of the area's status under Superfund. At the same time, I am committed to continuing to work with EPA to develop comprehensive solutions agreeable to all parties involved.
Thank you again for all of the time and energy you and your staff have devoted to these issues. If you have any questions about my concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or have the appropriate staff member contact Ms. Anna Knudson, Legislative Assistant, by calling 202-224-2621. Thank you.
United States Senator
cc: Mr. Chuck Clarke, Regional Administrator
Groups back feds for cleanup
Environmentalists, unions attack critics' claim that Superfund label brings stigma to CDA basin
By Zaz Hollander, Staff writer
Labor and environmental groups on Friday aligned to send a message to Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman Bob Martin.
The federal government should direct cleanup of metals pollution throughout the Coeur d'Alene River basin, the groups said at a news conference.
They attacked the perception that federal Superfund projects bring economic stigma, as alleged by regional politicians and business interests.
Attend the November 14 public hearing in Spokane.
Speak out for the future of our great river.
Insist on a comprehensive clean-up of our polluted watershed, including the "toxic ore body" between the Cataldo Mission and Harrison, Idaho, that is dumping lead and arsenic into Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Spokane River.
Judith Gilmore, Executive Director of The Lands Council.
For 12 years we have chronicled the rich history of our forests and rivers in about 4,000 pages of Transitions - journal of The Lands Council.
We need your help to ensure that Transitions continues providing its unique look at issues facing the Inland Pacific Northwest - and beyond.
John Osborn, M.D. - founder
The Lands Council
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