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U.S. EPA Acts to Control Mercury From Gold Mines

But fails to protect public from cyanide and other toxic mine emissions
December 17, 2010
Washington, D.C. —

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued long overdue emission standards for the toxic pollution emitted by gold mining companies’ ore processing facilities. The new control requirements will provide significant reductions in gold mines mercury emissions, but regrettably fail to provide exposed communities with any protection from cyanide, arsenic and other toxic chemicals these plants emit in great volume.

Jane Williams, Chair of the Sierra Club National Air Toxics Taskforce, lives near a proposed gold mine to be located between Rosamond and Mojave, CA.

"EPA deserves credit for finally putting limits on the amount of mercury that gold mines emit," said Williams. "Mercury is a highly potent neurotoxin that can cause birth defects and developmental damage in infants and children, even at very low exposure levels. But the EPA has done nothing about toxic emissions from gold mines’ open leach piles and nothing about their emissions of cyanide and other poisons. EPA’s failure to require gold mines to fully control their pollution will have horrific health impacts on this community when the new plant starts up."

"The EPA’s new rule is critically important to protecting the health of our children from mercury poisoning," said Justin Hayes, Program Director with the Idaho Conservation League. "By directing this industry to install devices to reduce their mercury emissions, the EPA is ensuring that the health of our kids is finally going to be placed ahead of corporate profits. Yes, it will cost the gold the companies a little extra money—but it is affordable, and our kids are worth it."

Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, obtained a court-ordered deadline for this rule after EPA missed the statutory deadline. Sierra Club and Earthjustice also submitted comments on the proposed rule EPA issued earlier this year, urging EPA to set standards for all the hazardous air pollutants that gold mines emit, control emissions from open leach piles, and strengthen its mercury standards. Through this litigation and advocacy, Earthjustice helped secure the 77 percent mercury reduction (from 2007 levels) that EPA just issued.

"EPA and Obama administration have made impressive commitments to protect communities from toxic pollution and to respect science and the law," said Earthjustice toxics attorney Jim Pew. "Limiting gold mines’ mercury emissions is a step in the right direction. Doing nothing to control the emissions from gold mines’ leach piles and allowing unlimited emissions of cyanide and other toxins lets communities down, ignores science, and violates the Clean Air Act."

According to the EPA, there are more than 20 gold mine ore processing facilities in the U.S., in the states of Nevada, Alaska, Montana, California, Washington and Colorado. These facilities extract gold by crushing and cooking vast quantities of rock and earth that contain minute amounts of gold.

Contacts

Jim Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 214

Jane Williams, Sierra Club, (661) 510-3412

Justin Hayes, Idaho Conservation League, (208) 345-6933, ext. 24

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.