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News Releases from Region 09

U.S. EPA Adds Former California Gold Mine to List of Nation’s Worst Toxic Sites

Contact Information: 
Michele Huitric (Huitric.michele@epa.gov)

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is adding Argonaut Mine, located in Amador County, to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List. Historic gold mining operations deposited high levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury in soils. Today’s action makes the site eligible to receive federal funding for a long-term, permanent cleanup.

“Now that Argonaut Mine is on the Superfund list, EPA can begin full-scale efforts to clean up contaminated soil throughout the site,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “As we have been working with the community since 2013, this is an important step to address the mine’s toxic legacy.”

Argonaut Mine, located west of downtown Jackson, is a hard rock gold mine that operated from the 1850s to 1942. The now-defunct Argonaut Mining Company processed ore and disposed of tailings (waste left after the mining process) on the northwest side of Jackson. Most of the contaminated soil is in a 65-acre area to the west of Highway 49.

In 2015, EPA took action to clean up the highest levels of contamination at eleven residential properties and a vacant lot in Jackson, and installed a protective cover on steep soil slopes at the junior high school.

In April 2016, EPA proposed to add Argonaut Mine to the Superfund list, with the state’s support. Now that the mine has been formally added to the list, EPA will begin a comprehensive investigation at the site, and will seek public input prior to selecting a cleanup plan.

Some of the contaminated mine tailings are being held behind the 100-year old Eastwood Multiple Arch Dam. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), lead agency for retrofit of the dam, is evaluating stabilization options. EPA is working closely with DTSC and the City of Jackson to ensure public safety and protect public health as this project moves forward.

In addition to Argonaut Mine, EPA is adding nine and proposing to add eight other hazardous waste sites across the country to the Superfund list. These sites are contaminated by a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, requires EPA to update the NPL at least annually and clean up hazardous waste sites to protect human health with the goal of returning them to productive use. The Superfund program has provided important benefits for people and the environment since Congress established the program in 1980. Those benefits are both direct and indirect, and include reduction of threats to human health and ecological systems in the vicinity of Superfund sites, improvement of the economic conditions and quality of life in communities affected by hazardous waste sites, prevention of future releases of hazardous substances, and advances in science and technology.

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the new and proposed sites:

Information about how a site is listed on the National Priorities List:

Information about Superfund: