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The U.S. Legacy of Abandoned Mines [220]

Alabama Alabama is no longer the Iron Capitol of the South, but in northwestern Franklin County, abandoned iron ore mines remain. Erosion has stripped vegetation from hundreds of acres and swept sediment into area streams.

Arizona The aptly-named Orphan mine is located near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Orphan produced uranium until the mid-1980s when uranium prices crashed. Today, soils around Orphan mine are radioactive and a 20-by-30 foot subsidence hole is still gaping and wide open.

California Shasta County, located in northern California, bears many unpleasant reminders of the old gold rush days. The Iron Mountain mine, one of the most destructive Superfund sites, deposits 400 pounds of copper and 1,400 pounds of zinc into Shasta County reservoirs every day -- one-fourth of the copper and zinc discharged into surface waters for the entire United States. The Balaklala mine discharges acid and heavy metals into a tributary of the Shasta Lake, one of California's most important recreational lakes. In Southern California, upcoming passage of the Desert Protection Act will bring hundreds of abandoned -- and potentially life-endangering -- mines into the National Park system.

Florida Gypsum stacks in central Florida's Polk County are the visible remnant of once-profitable phosphate mines. These piles of gypsum are believed to poison groundwater with low-level radioactivity.

Kansas Waste piles left behind from old lead/zinc mines dot the Galena area of south eastern Kansas. Rain leaches heavy metals from the piles into ground and surface water, and wind blows toxic dust from the piles into populated areas. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has designated Galena a Superfund hazardous waste site.

Maine The Blue Hill mine, located 20 miles west of Acadia National Park produced lead and zinc until the 1970s. Now Blue Hill's tailings piles produce sulfuric acid, which washes into nearby streams.

Michigan The Dober mine, an old iron ore mine located in the Marquette mountain range, is only one of several iron mines discharging acid into local rivers and streams. Additional safety hazards and water quality impacts have arisen on the Deweenaw Peninsula from exhausted copper mines.

Missouri When the St. Joe Minerals Corp. donated an old tailings pile to the state for use as a park, the state had no way of knowing that it was taking over liability for an environmental disaster. The 130-foot-high pile functions as a dam, backing up 75 million tons of saturated mine tailings. An analysis of the dams's stability found that an earthquake could send those tailings pouring into the town of Flat River below. The state has begun plans for a multimillion-dollar project to stabilize the dam. Unfortunately, an Army Corps of Engineers study has reported that twenty-one additional tailings dams also need attention, especially the East Bonne Terre tailings dam in Washington County.

Montana In western Montana is Corbin Flats. Acid drainage from this site poisoned the drinking-water supply of a nearby community, forcing replacement at great expense. Corbin has been ranked as Montana's #1 HAMR threat by the state reclamation agency.

Nevada The Veta Grande mine, located 40 miles south of Carson City, was part of the legendary Comstock Lode. Today, it is one of Nevada's more serious sources of cyanide contamination.

New Mexico The operator of the Pecos lead/zinc mine, located in San Miguel county, deposited his tailings in a nearby creek valley. Acid from these tailings has polluted a five-acre wetland in the Santa Fe National Forest. Worse, waste rock from the site was used to pave roads. Rain dissolving sulfur in the roads formed a sulfuric acid solution, which has resulted in massive fish kills and a decision by the Forest Service to close two popular campgrounds.

North Carolina Sediment from abandoned mica and feldspar mines in Mitchell and Yancey counties has destroyed fish and aquatic life in over 100 miles of stream, and filled Davey Crockett Lake with silt.

South Dakota Several hundred abandoned mines in the Black Hills National Forest are believed by the state to pose substantial risk for bodily injury or death.

Tennessee The Copper Basin of southeastern Tennessee is one of America's most abused parcels of land. Beginning at the turn of the century, more than 50 square miles of land were stripped of vegetation by copper mining, milling smelting and roasting. Only in the last decade have reclamation efforts begun to take root. In middle Tennessee, hundreds of acres have been sterilized by abandoned phosphate mines.

Texas The Mariscal mercury mine is located in Big Bend National Park of southwestern Texas. Mercury ore extracted from the earth was vaporized in a giant oven. This oven -- now soaked in toxic mercury -- still stands. For the past several years, trespassers have been stealing bricks from the oven for use in home fireplaces. These trespassers may be unwittingly bringing toxic chemicals into their homes. In addition, heavy rains are believed to produce toxic runoff from the minesite.

Utah In the northeast corner of Utah lie the Crawford Mountains and a seven-mile long area that state regulators call the most unstable ground in the United States. The tunnels and shafts left behind by an underground phosphate mine (possibly the world's only such mine), are now in the process of collapsing. Regulators have documented over 240 subsidence holes, some dropping 600 feet below the earth. Cattle have been accidentally herded into these holes and killed, and the threat of human fatalities remains serious. The Pacific mine is located in a private inholding of the Uinta National Forest. The owner, Euro-Nevada Corp., has refused to stop a flow of acid mine drainage going into the American Fork River. This river is an important cold-water fishery and potential water supply for Salt Lake City, only fifty miles to the northwest.

Vermont The Elizabeth mine, (iron, gold, manganese, lead, zinc, nickel and tin) located near Strafford, was closed in 1958 and left unreclaimed. Tailings piles continue to leach contaminants into a tributary of the Ompompanoosuc River, acidifying the stream and killing (or driving off) almost 80 percent of aquatic life. The pit has also been used as an illegal dump site for out-of-state sewage sludge.

Virginia Cabin Branch, located in Prince William Forest Park, was one of America's handful of pyrite mines. Pyrite is rich in sulfur, at one time a highly expensive substance. But sulfur also tends to react with oxygen and water to create sulfuric acid. When the operator dumped waste tailings into Quatico Creek, a flow of acid and heavy metals resulted. Three major shafts also remain, an ever-present safety hazard.

Wyoming Ferris Haggerty is a copper mine carved out of the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming. This mine discharges 100 gallons per minute of water polluted with heavy metals. The Haggerty River is sterile for several miles downstream, probably as a result of mine contamination.


220. This Appendix is excerpted from Coast-to-Coast Crisis: Hardrock Abandoned Mines in 22 States, Tom Hilliard (Washington, D.C.: Mineral Policy Center, 1996).

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