Magazine article E Magazine

The Paiute Mining Disaster

Magazine article E Magazine

The Paiute Mining Disaster

Article excerpt

The Yerington Anaconda Mine in northern Nevada was one of the world's largest producers of copper from 1953 to 2000. Today, nearby residents complain the defunct site is a major polluter. The Yerington Paiute Tribe's (YPT) Campbell Ranch Reservation is barely three miles north, downwind from the 3,500-acre mining property and squarely in the path of any contaminants that might leave the mine.

Several owners and tenants operated the mine over the years, including the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), which purchased Anacondas interest in 1977 (and was itself later swallowed up by British Petroleum). When the bankrupt operator, Arimetco, walked away from the project in 2000, it left everything as it was, including millions of gallons of waste solutions in evaporation ponds and processing chemicals in miles of pipelines and storage drums. The tribe met firm resistance from authorities when it asked for the site to be included on the National Priorities List (NPL) for Superfund status. City and county leaders pointed out fears of decreased property values and stigma.

Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn said in 2001, "While we can all agree that there is localized contamination at the site, we fail to see any scientific evidence that tribal resources are threatened, or have been adversely impacted" With the requested Superfund status circumvented, Governor Guinn put the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) in charge of site remediation.

After two years, the first barrels of chemicals were removed from the site. It was another year before the first work plan was approved for the processing area, but basic site evaluations are still underway.

The YPT had long suspected uranium was on the mine site and that it may have polluted a nearby river and local irrigation ditches. Both ARCO and NDEP discounted the possibility until the summer of 2003, when documents were located that described Anacondas processing of yellowcake on the site in 1976. …

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