EARTHWORKS

Mining Industry Hides Toxic Releases

June 23, 2004

 

MOST TOXIC INDUSTRY IN AMERICA BLOCKS
PUBLIC RIGHT TO KNOW HOW MUCH CORPORATIONS POLLUTE IN
U.S.

Mining Company Lawsuit Keeps Citizens in the Dark
by Exempting Reports of Certain Toxic Releases

WASHINGTON, DC -- Multinational companies that mine metals and minerals such as gold, silver and copper - produce more toxic waste than any other industry in the country, according to the EPA's annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) released today.

 

According to the TRI, 1.3 billion pounds of toxics were released by hardrock mines in 2002 - 27% of all toxics released by U.S. industry overall. This includes 384 million pounds of arsenic, 348 million pounds of lead and 4.7 million pounds of mercury.

 

Despite the large amounts of toxic releases reported, these numbers do not represent the full amount of toxic pollution released into the environment by the mining industry. Since the mining industry was required to report its toxic releases in 1997, mining companies have repeatedly attempted to get out of their reporting requirements through various court cases.

 

In 1999, Barrick Gold (the 3rd largest gold producer in the world) sued to limit the public's right to know about toxic mining pollution. In April 2003, the Court agreed with Barrick on one of its legal arguments, ruling that mining companies do not have to report toxics contained within waste rock if the toxics fall below a certain "de minimis" concentration.

 

Because of this court decision, this years reporting is significantly lower than last year - the mining industry is reporting 1.5 billion pounds less toxic releases than 2001 - even though actual total releases of toxics by mining probably did not diminish at all. This decrease in reporting could have serious affects on western communities. For example, the Cripple Creek and Victor Mine in Colorado reported a release of nearly 600,000 pounds of arsenic in 2001. In 2002, the amount of arsenic the mine reported dropped dramatically - to just over 10,000 pounds - even though production at the mine increased nearly 5%.

 

As part of the regulations that guide TRI reporting, the EPA established a reporting exemption, known as "de minimis," for minute concentrations of toxics that are deemed to constitute no threat to the environment or to public health. Including toxics within waste rock under the "de minimis" exemption violates the spirit of the exemption.  Even small concentrations of toxics add up quickly when dumped in prodigious quantities. Last year's TRI data showed the mining industry released nearly 3 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment - with the release of 2002 TRI data, we now know that approximately half of that total was contained within waste rock. 

 

A Barrick-owned mine in South Dakota, the Homestake Mine, has polluted groundwater and neighboring streams with toxic materials coming from the mine's waste rock piles. Waste rock at the mine is causing such extensive pollution that a water treatment system is being constructed to prevent selenium from discharging into neighboring trout streams. Selenium, in high doses, is extremely harmful to aquatic life, animals and humans.

 

"These companies are running renegade over the public's right to know what toxic waste is dumped in their communities," said Stephen D'Esposito, President of Earthworks, "Mining companies are exposing communities and water supplies to contaminants like lead, mercury and arsenic, and some of them don t want anyone to know."

 

The EPA has said that it plans to write a new rule clarifying reporting obligations as a result of these lawsuits.  However, until then, the mining industry is doing communities affected by its toxic releases a great disservice by not reporting all the necessary information.

 

"The public deserves to know all the harmful toxic chemicals being released by the mining industry," said Stephen D'Esposito, President of Earthworks. "Next years EPA rulemaking should not allow the mining industry to get away with trying to hide their toxic releases."

 

For more information on the two industry lawsuits, please visit: http://www.earthworksaction.org/TRI_industry.cfm

 

For the latest TRI information, please visit:
http://www.epa.gov/tri

 

# # #


For more information:

Contact:

Lauren Pagel, EARTHWORKS, 202-887-1872 x207, cell 202-550-8960

Stephen D'Esposito, EARTHWORKS, 202-255-2717

Dick Fort, ACTion for the Environment, South Dakota, 605-584-3832

Tagged with: tri, toxics, mining, mercury, gold

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