Heavy metals spread all over town.Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard
MINING'S TOXIC LEGACY Toxic Legacy is a documentary by Susan Teskey and it was produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was broadcast on the CBC and Discovery Times in September, 2006.
Part four of a five-part series
Fifty years ago, mine tailings Tailings (also known as tailings pile, tails, leach residue, or slickens) are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the worthless fraction of an ore. were an attractive material for building roads, driveways and foundations in some rural Oregon towns.
On the eastern flank of Sutherlin, the booming Bonanza mercury mine - the second-largest quicksilver quicksilver: see mercury.
(1) (QuickSilver Technology, Inc., San Jose, CA, www.qstech.com) A mobile communications company that specializes in a reconfigurable logic chip for cellphones and PDAs. See adaptive computing. producer in the nation - crushed cinnabar cinnabar (sĭn`əbär), mineral, the sulfide of mercury, HgS. Deep red in color, it is used as a pigment (see vermilion), but principally it is a source of the metal mercury. ore during nearly a century of operation.
The mine produced mountains of red-brown tailings and waste rock, and it was free for the taking. Builders found it easier to get than river gravel River gravel are small pieces of rounded stone, usually no larger than a large coin, of a various colors. It is named for the effect of many years of rounding of the edges due to a flow of water over it. .
In the 1940s, timber companies used a ribbon of the stuff as a foundation for the 17-mile Red Rock Railroad, which wound through the Sutherlin Valley and ended in town.
In the 1960s, dam builders used tailings in one or two reservoirs they fashioned just outside town.
Homeowners filled their pickup trucks and spread the handsome red rock on their walks and driveways, lifelong resident Diana Cox remembers.
"All of us got it. It was cheap. Free. Help yourself," she said. "Nothing would grow in it. It was nice to use on your driveway. You didn't have to worry about brush or grass growing up in the middle."
Decades later, the legacy is plain: The red dirt Red dirt refers to:
n.pl metallic compounds, such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and nickel. Exposure to these metals has been linked to immune, kidney, and neurotic disorders. , and now it's all over town.
"It really is a dangerous situation," Cox said.
The Red Rock rail line is long gone, yet the old arsenic-laden rail bed is still there, weaving through town, presenting an elevated lifetime cancer risk to anyone exposed to it, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. a study commissioned by Weyerhaeuser Co.
The irrigation irrigation, in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice. reservoirs on Sutherlin and Cooper creeks are ripe for fishing. But the state warns that the fish are tainted with "high" levels of mercury.
State and private environmental engineers have struggled unsuccessfully to figure out what - if anything - to do about the tailings spread hither hith·er
To or toward this place: Come hither.
Located on the near side.
hither and thither/yon and yon.
Weyerhaeuser hired consultant CH2MHill to conduct an extensive study of how to cope with the old railroad bed Noun 1. railroad bed - a bed on which railroad track is laid
bed - a foundation of earth or rock supporting a road or railroad track; "the track bed had washed away"
rail line, railway line, line - the road consisting of railroad track and roadbed , which the company owned and operated for 17 years.
And if the dispersed tailings were not enough of a problem, state Department of Environmental Quality studies found that the Bonanza mine site itself is leaching mercury into tributaries of the Umpqua River The Umpqua River (UHMP-kwah) is a river on the Pacific coast of Oregon in the United States, approximately 111 mi (179 km) long. One of the prinicipal rivers of the Oregon coast, it drains an expansive network of valleys in the mountains west of the Cascade Range and south of the .
"People did things in the past - and not that far distant past - that were perfectly reasonable at the time," DEQ DEQ
Abbreviation for the Incoterm "Delivered Ex Quay." attorney Charlie Landman said. "We're suffering the consequences of people's lack of knowledge about the consequences."
The Bonanza mine, five miles east of Sutherlin in Douglas County Douglas County is the name of twelve counties in the United States:
The mine operated for about 100 years under a string of different companies. Peak production was in World War II, when mercury fulminate mer´cu`ry ful´mi`nate
n. 1. (Chem.) The mercury salt of fulminic acid (
Production was big: Every 24 hours, miners brought out 160 tons of cinnabar. Employment was welcomed: Twenty-eight men worked the mine and condensing con·dense
v. con·densed, con·dens·ing, con·dens·es
1. To reduce the volume or compass of.
2. To make more concise; abridge or shorten.
a. plant. The demise came in October 1960, when the main vein was tapped out and the market for mercury fell.
That left 46,500 cubic yards of tell-tale red rocks at the site.
And that spells big-time headaches. For starters, residents living at the mine site were - and are - exposed to dangerous levels of mercury and arsenic.
A colorful California man - a former wrestler, fire captain and truck driver - bought the mine property in the mid-1990s and moved his extended family into scattered trailers and manufactured homes on site.
Soil tests found 500 times the level of mercury considered safe for residential areas and 600 times the level of arsenic, according to DEQ officials. Childhood exposure to mercury is associated with learning difficulties up to and including retardation.
Arsenic exposure is linked to formation of cancerous tumors on the hands and feet. "It's certainly highly toxic highly toxic Occupational medicine adjective Referring to a chemical that 1. Has a median lethal dose–LD50 of ≤ 50 mg/kg when administered orally to 200-300 g albino rats 2. and is certainly to be feared - as much or more - as mercury," DEQ project manager Greg Aitken said.
State health officials were appalled to find children living so close to tailings. But the residents are blase bla·sé
1. Uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence.
2. Unconcerned; nonchalant: had a blasé attitude about housecleaning.
3. Very sophisticated. .
"They weren't riled rile
tr.v. riled, ril·ing, riles
1. To stir to anger. See Synonyms at annoy.
2. To stir up (liquid); roil.
[Variant of roil.]
Adj. 1. or really all that interested," said Amanda Guay, coordinator of the Oregon Superfund Health Investigation and Education program.
SHINE wanted to give residents urine tests, but none cooperated until the agency offered $20 in food coupons per participant. Even then, only six of about a dozen family members took part. The urine tests revealed no signs of acute mercury poisoning mercury poisoning, tissue damage resulting from exposure to more than trace amounts of the element mercury or its compounds. Elemental mercury (the silver liquid familiar from thermometers) is the most common occupational source. , though some residents' arsenic levels were on the high side.
The DEQ, in the meantime Adv. 1. in the meantime - during the intervening time; "meanwhile I will not think about the problem"; "meantime he was attentive to his other interests"; "in the meantime the police were notified"
meantime, meanwhile , spent $300,000 studying the site and hauling away eight cubic yards of the most contaminated contaminated,
v 1. made radioactive by the addition of small quantities of radioactive material.
2. made contaminated by adding infective or radiographic materials.
3. an infective surface or object. material. The agency encased en·case
tr.v. en·cased, en·cas·ing, en·cas·es
To enclose in or as if in a case.
en·casement n. an additional 444 tons on site in a heavy plastic liner, strung a plastic fence around it and posted warning signs to keep people out.
Several years later, SHINE officials revisited the site and found someone had peeled away the plastic liner and was riding dirt bikes on the pile. The DEQ put up a 6-foot cyclone fence and, later, a contractor hauled the material 305 miles to the hazardous waste Hazardous waste
Any solid, liquid, or gaseous waste materials that, if improperly managed or disposed of, may pose substantial hazards to human health and the environment. Every industrial country in the world has had problems with managing hazardous wastes. landfill at Arlington. Plenty of waste tailings remain at the mining site.
Members of the family continue to live there. Health officials have told them how to keep children safe from arsenic, but wonder if the residents take the advice seriously.
"We've seen evidence of children digging in that soil. Just with levels that high and the behavior of children putting their hands in their mouth, I'm not that comfortable," said Kate Toepel, a state toxicologist.
The grandfather who brought his family to live at the site died a couple of years ago. Three months ago, his 76-year-old widow put the mine, five homes and 43 acres on the market at $399,000.
The widow said the contaminants are not a problem. "It couldn't be dangerous, or else they'd tell us we couldn't live here," she said.
The DEQ is not holding the family accountable for the cleanup because the family submitted evidence it can't afford the cost. But the DEQ holds a lien on the property and may insist on a cleanup before any sale is completed.
The DEQ has tried to involve a Medford-based firm, Taxco LLC (Logical Link Control) See "LANs" under data link protocol.
LLC - Logical Link Control , a former owner of the property, in a cleanup. From September 2000 to May 2002, the DEQ sent three letters to the firm, but that firm argued that it was not responsible because during its ownership it did not operate the mine, DEQ records show.
The DEQ let the matter drop.
The mine is only the beginning. The railroad that runs 17 miles westward into town was built on Bonanza tailings.
After Weyerhaeuser decommissioned the railroad in 1966, the company began selling sections to residents and businesses along the route. At the time, 33 people bought in. Today, the owners likely number in the hundreds.
Weyerhaeuser kept ownership of only the 2.6-mile section that runs through its forests. The company keeps that section of the old road bed covered with gravel or vegetation to protect workers from contact with the metals, Weyerhaeuser spokesman Mike Moskovitz said.
The company isn't responsible for other parts of the old rail bed - including the part that runs through Sutherlin- because that section was built in the early 1900s by the Roach Timber Co., Moskovitz said.
However, Weyerhaeuser recognizes that as a later owner of the entire line, it "should take some responsibility in addressing this situation," he said.
Weyerhaeuser entered into the DEQ's voluntary cleanup program in June 2001 and has since spent $400,000 sampling and studying the rail bed.
The study found an elevated cancer risk for people who touch or swallow the dirt, according to DEQ standards. But Moskovitz said the state cleanup standards are high and the risk is minimal.
The company and the DEQ alerted Sutherlin residents to the hazard at meetings in 2001 and 2002. Then, in 2004, DEQ officials again told Sutherlin residents about widespread evidence of mercury in creeks, sediments, fish tissue and the old railroad bed.
At that meeting, two dozen people signed up to get a copy of Weyerhaeuser's promised study of cleanup options for the railroad. Nearly two years later, they haven't received a thing.
"We've all been pretty upset about it," said Edward Thomas Edward Thomas may be:
Next to Thomas' house, a flimsy wire fence a fence consisting of posts with strained horizontal wires, wire netting, or other wirework, between.
See also: Wire fails to keep children off the old railroad bed.
Jenny Mahlum takes her children Esabella, 6, and Gracie, 1, to hunt for snails and pretty rocks along the fenced-off old railroad bed near her Azalea azalea (əzāl`yə) [Gr.,=dry], any species of the genus Rhododendron, North American and Asian shrubs of the family Ericaceae (heath family) that are distinguished by the usually deciduous leaves. Way home.
She said she'd never heard of the arsenic and mercury contamination.
"So we shouldn't let our kids play there?" she asked. "Somebody should tell them to stick up a sign."
Cutbacks halt outreach
Last August - unbeknown to Sutherlin residents - all state work related to the old railroad ceased.
The DEQ stopped work on a report, canceled plans to issue a decision and dropped efforts to inform Sutherlin residents.
"Things came screeching to a halt," said Aitken, the DEQ's cleanup project manager.
The cause: DEQ cutbacks. The state reduced staff at the agency's Eugene-based Western Region cleanup program by 40 percent, manager Max Rosenberg said.
The Bonanza mine remains a "must work on site" in the DEQ's prioritization system, and it remains a "significant and ongoing threat" to people, but there's no money for it, Rosenberg said.
The agency notified Weyerhaeuser, he said. "We give them an option of `Do nothing until we come knocking' or `Clean it up on your own,' '' he said.
Now, Weyerhaeuser is in no hurry to finish its work. A study of how property owners can minimize their exposure won't be completed until 2007 or 2008, Moskovitz said.
The draft calls for a gravel cover on areas that are used as roads; dirt and vegetation on parts used by pedestrians; and procedures for loggers working around the old railroad bed in Weyerhaeuser forests.
SHINE health officials are studying potential risks for people living along the old railroad bed. A draft will be out in July, with the final report by September.
SUNDAY: The Formosa mine is an old-style mining mess created barely a decade ago.
MONDAY: Regulators and companies work to avoid being stuck with mining cleanup costs.
TUESDAY: Black Butte Black Butte may refer to:
TODAY: A state effort to remediate mining waste in Sutherlin dies for lack of money.
THURSDAY: Soaring metals prices could spark a resurgence in Oregon mining. Are regulators ready?
Skin cancer is the biggest risk associated with exposure to arsenic in dirt. Here's what health officials say:
Short-term risks: Vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cough, headache Long-term risks: Skin cancer, numbness, diabetes Avoid dirt: Don't let children play in contaminated dirt Wash frequently: Toys, pacifiers, hands Plant grass: Cover bare soil with grass or other materials Nothing by mouth: Don't eat, chew or smoke in areas with contaminated soil Garden tips: Wear gloves; wash and peel produce; make raised bed and fill with clean soil; dampen soil to avoid inhaling dust Inside: Remove shoes at door; clean pet paws; keep windows and doors closed; clean floor with wet mop, not vacuum cleaner vacuum cleaner, mechanical device using a draft of air to remove dust, loose dirt, or other particulate matter from dry surfaces. It is especially useful on highly textured surfaces, such as carpets and upholstery, that are difficult to clean by wiping or brushing. More info: Oregon Superfund Health Investigation and Education program, (503) 731-4012
Old-timers used Bonanza tailings to build driveways, dams and railroad beds around Sutherlin.
Location: 5 miles east of Sutherlin History: Commercial mercury mining, approx. 1860-1960s Current status: Inactive Ownership: Private, but declared an orphan site for cleanup purposes Pollution: Waste mining rock contaminated with mercury and arsenic was used for many construction projects in the Sutherlin area in previous decades; mercury from mine flows into tributaries of Umpqua River.
MINING'S CYCLICAL NATURE From The Register-Guard's archives:
September 1955: U.S. government gives Bonanza mine $58,000 to explore for new mercury deposits at its Sutherlin-area site.
September 1956: Mercury & Chemical Corp. of New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of reopens the Black Butte mine in Lane County for the first time since 1943.
November 1956: Government places mercury on its "critical list" and sets a minimum price, spurring Bonanza in Douglas County to boost output.
November 1957: Mercury miners' fears are realized. The U.S. government sets its peacetime mercury reserves low, and the price bottoms out. Oregon mercury mines jeopardized.
August 1958: Editorial: America needs a ready mineral industry.
Imported ores, mined by men who are paid less than U.S. miners, and often mined from richer deposits than found in the United States, can undersell the domestic products.
January 1965: Canadian-owned American Mercury Co. reopens Black Butte mine after an eight-year lull.
April 1965: American Mercury's engineers stake out 30,000 tons of mercury ore and see five or six years of work ahead.
June 1966: Alleghany Mining and Explorations of Toronto, Canada, acquires control of Black Butte mine and plans to reopen it after a one-month closure.
July 1968: Alleghany Mining considers closing Black Butte citing debt and mercury's low price.
May 1970: Seven Lane County residents launch commercial operation at Star Mine group with a new mill and 13 claims comprising 260 acres.
July 1981: The Emerald Empire Mining Co. explores the Musick Mine in the Bohemia Mining District aided by a $27,000 federal grant.
July 1982: Steve Geisler and Dave Vermeer live and mine with their families at the Combination Mine in the Bohemia Mining District.
April 1985: The closed Bonanza mine in Sutherlin, on 42 acres with two houses and three trailer spaces, is put up for sale by owner For Sale By Owner (abbreviated as FSBO; IPA pronunciation: ['fɪz,bou]) is a real estate term which describes the situation in which a property is offered for sale directly by its owner and without that owner having Bonanza Mine Co. of Ohio.
October 1996: Richard Secord Jr. and Richard Secord Sr. live and dig at the Evening Star mine in the Bohemia Mining District.
December 2005: Editorial: Congress should update antiquated 1872 law.