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News Releases from Region 09

U.S. EPA Proposes to Add California Mine Site to Superfunds National Priorities List

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

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to add eight hazardous waste sites to the Superfund program's National Priorities List (NPL), including California's Argonaut Mine. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country that pose risks to human health and the environment.

The Argonaut Mine Site, located west of downtown Jackson, Calif. in Amador County, is a historic hard rock gold mine that operated from the 1850s to 1942. The Argonaut Mining Company processed ore and disposed of tailings (i.e., waste left after the mining process) throughout what is now the northwest side of Jackson.

"Though the Argonaut Mine closed more than 70 years ago, its toxic legacy threatens the health of people and natural resources in Amador County," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Adding the site to the National Priorities List is a crucial step in developing a long term solution for this site."

As a result of years of mining operations, the site's soil contains high levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury. An additional estimated one million cubic yards of contaminated materials are currently being held back by the 100-year old Eastwood Multiple Arch Dam.

In 2015, EPA took action to keep people from being exposed to the highest levels of contamination. This work included the cleanup of eleven residential yards and a vacant lot in Jackson, and the installation of a protective cover on steep soil slopes at Jackson Junior High School.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is evaluating options to stabilize the dam, which is structurally unstable and deteriorating due to age; a potential dam failure poses a threat to the safety of the community. As part of this effort, DTSC built a stormwater diversion system to keep water from collecting in the tailings behind the dam and relieve some of the stress the dam is experiencing.

Under Superfund law, only sites EPA adds to the NPL are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions against potentially responsible parties and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups rather than passing the costs on to taxpayers. EPA searches for parties legally responsible for contaminating a site, and holds those parties accountable for cleanup costs.

EPA responds to requests from states, tribes and communities to propose a site for NPL addition when non-NPL response options have not proved viable. Prior to adding a site to the NPL, the agency works closely with states and tribes and seeks public comment. Community partnerships are also critical to Superfund site cleanups. EPA's goal is to work with community partners at every site by establishing an effective process with the necessary tools and information needed to fully explore future uses before the cleanup remedy's selection. This approach gives the Agency the best chance of ensuring remedies are consistent with a site's likely future use.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the law creating the Superfund program. The Superfund law gives EPA the authority to clean up hazardous substance releases and directs EPA to update the NPL. EPA and its partners continue to discover new sites qualifying for the NPL.

For Federal Register notices, supporting documents, and how to provide public comments:

For information about how a site is listed on the NPL:

For information on the 35th Anniversary of Superfund:

For information about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program: