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EPA and BLM Move Ahead With Clayton Mine Tailings Cleanup

Release Date: 7/11/2000
Contact Information: Greg Weigel
(208) 378-5773

July 11, 2000 - - - - - - - - - - - 00-37

For Immediate Release

Residents of a north-central Idaho town are advising a team of federal and state officials in the cleanup of toxic mine tailings at the abandoned Clayton Silver Mine. The former mine and mill site -- located between Stanley and Challis on Highway 75 -- is being addressed by a task force comprised of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality(IDEQ), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management(BLM) and Custer County officials. The community is helping provide valuable information about site history, possible exposure pathways and public health concerns.

The Clayton Silver Mine(CSM) operated from approximately 1935 through 1985 as a mining and milling facility. The main metals of concern are silver, zinc, and lead. The site has been abandoned since 1986. A recent (1994) study conducted at the site concluded that mine waste presents a threat to the environment, and possibly to human health. This is due to elevated levels of heavy metals in site sediments and soils. Tailings fines containing elevated concentrations of arsenic, lead and zinc, are migrating from the site due to wind erosion and streamflow erosion of the tailings pile. Windborne fine particles may pose a health hazard for people who happen to inhale or ingest them.

According to Greg Weigel, EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator, fine tailings particles are entering nearby Kinnikinic Creek and the Salmon River, where they are degrading water quality and likely effecting both fish & aquatic insect health.

“Metals from mine waste are particularly insidious in their effect on water quality,” said Weigel. “Just because there are no apparent fish kills, doesn’t mean these tailings aren’t having a long-term negative affect on the creek, the river and their inhabitants. Besides insuring that local residents are safe, we’re especially concerned about endangered chinook salmon in the Salmon River.”

The Clayton Mine property consists of approximately 565 acres on and around Kinnikinic Creek. Major site features include several mine and mill buildings, vertical and horizontal mine openings, a mine adit discharge, and a tailings pile directly south and downstream of the mill site.
Cleanup partners IDEQ, EPA, BLM and the County have been working closely with area residents over the past year and a half to identify priorities and a plan for site cleanup. Last year, EPA removed hazardous mine-related chemicals from an abandoned building in the town of Clayton and from the mine site that were left behind when the mine company quit operations in 1986. Also last year, the Idaho Department of Lands sealed dangerous mine openings at the site.

EPA and their contractors expect to be mobilized on-site by Wednesday, July 12, and will be doing drilling and other exploratory work necessary to evaluate the long-term stability of the tailings pile. Additional work will involve establishing a cover on the tailings pile to reduce erosion and infiltration of precipitation water, and stabilizing the toe of the tailings pile so that it does not continue to erode into Kinnikinic Creek. A scheduled completion date has not yet been established.

The BLM, coordinating with the IDEQ, will be conducting sampling of Kinnikinic Creek surface water and the mine adit discharge during the 2000 construction season, in order to characterize the contribution of metals from the adit discharge to the creek and the Salmon River. The Custer County Soil and Water Conservation District, IDEQ, Department of Lands and Department of Water Resources will be providing technical input to support the joint EPA/BLM cleanup action.

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