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U.S. EPA agrees to take the lead in cleaning up the Yerington mine

Release Date: 12/20/2004
Contact Information: Laura Gentile, 415/760-9161

State requested the agency's help in cleaning up Nevada abandoned copper mine

SAN FRANCISCO -- Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to assume primary responsibility for the cleanup of the Yerington mine site, at the request of the state.

Earlier this month, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection asked the EPA to take on the responsibility as lead agency to assure the adequate cleanup of the mine. For the past two years, the NDEP, the EPA and BLM have shared the responsibility of regulating the cleanup of the site, which covers almost six square miles, half of which lies on federal lands.

"Our goal is to build on the progress which has already been made by the agencies," said Keith Takata, director of the EPA's Superfund program for the Pacific Southwest region. "As lead agency, we will be able to use the Superfund law to address the complex technical issues at the site."

Lyon County, the city of Yerington and the Yerington Paiute Tribe all support the NDEP's request.

The NDEP's request stemmed from recent information showing that the site is significantly more complex than previous data indicated. Samples analyzed last summer indicated levels of radiation in soil samples as high as 30 times above the EPA's standard. Earlier this year, groundwater testing of drinking water wells revealed uranium concentrations ranging from four times above the EPA's standard in some wells to as much as 200 times above the standard.

The EPA will be the lead agency responsible for the site cleanup, in accordance with the Superfund law. Under the Superfund law, EPA generally requires the parties responsible for the pollution to implement the cleanup. The EPA anticipates working with the Atlantic Richfield Company, a prior owner of the site, to implement the clean up.

The Yerington mine site, which is located about 55 miles southeast of Reno, produced copper for the Anaconda Company for about 30 years until 1978. The new owner, the Arimetco Company, abandoned the site in 2000 after going bankrupt.

Since 2000, the NDEP, EPA and BLM, have been addressing pollution at the site. The soil and groundwater at the site are contaminated with several different metals -- including copper, lead, arsenic, and mercury -- and radioactive materials, including uranium and thorium.