Nevada keeps finding more large sources of mercury among the gold mines that are among the biggest drivers of its rural economy. Unfortunately for Idaho we are downwind of these mercury emissions that accumulate in fish and can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in babies and young children.
The Idaho Conservation League has sent two additional “notice of intent to sue” letters to to the Florida Canyon Mine and Kennecott’s Denton-Rawhide Mine for failing to lawfully report these mercury emissions.
New data, collected by the state of Nevada, showed that in 2006 the Florida Canyon Mine emitted over 440 pounds of mercury and the Denton-Rawhide had emissions of over 350 pounds. Both mines reported little or no emissions previously.
Idaho officials and the ICL have been pressing Nevada gold mines to reduce mercury emissions since 2005. That when Idaho National Laboratory testing found that mercury levels in the air south of Twin Falls rose 30 to 70 percent higher than normal levels when winds blew from the southwest, where the Nevada gold mines are located.
It also found higher than normal mercury levels in Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir near Nevada's border. The reservoir is one of Idaho's water bodies where health officials have issued fish-consumption advisories, warning women of child-bearing age and children to eat only one fish meal a week because of mercury contamination.
Over the last year, more than a dozen new fish consumption advisories have been issued warning the public of mercury contamination in fish in Nevada, Idaho and Utah. EPA records from 2005, before these latest emissions were reported, showed Nevada gold mines produce 25% of all U.S. mercury air emissions west of Texas.
Nevada, under pressure from Idaho and Utah officials, instituted a mandatory mercury clean-up program at mines in 2006. It required all mines that emitted major levels of mercury to use the best available technology for cutting emissions.
The program already found several mines emitting more mercury before this latest discovery. Nevada has really stepped up its efforts after learning that emissions in several mines were larger than reported.
All of this comes after the ICL’s program director, Justin Hayes, the father of young children, spent days driving around Nevada with a air quality monitor documenting higher air quality levels than reported around some of these mines. He kept pushing Nevada and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to do more than the voluntary mercury clean-up program they had put in place with the cooperation of miners in 2001.
Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality also pressed and increased its own mercury monitoring program in cooperation with the Idaho National Laboratory. Now it has the support of Gov. Butch Otter who urged them to expand its efforts, especially in working with surrounding states .
"The reduction of overall mercury in the state is affected by factors outside state borders," Otter wrote recently as he also urged DEQ to look into whether Idaho needs its own mercury clean-up program.
Idaho doesn’t often get credit for environmental leadership. But its careful yet aggressive efforts to document mercury pollution coming over its borders has raised what was a considered largely a local issue, into a regional one that begs for more attention.