My brother-in-law, Jim, sent me an e-mail about a serious problem affecting lakes, streams (and fish!) in Idaho, and possibly Utah and Montana.
Gary: We had a guest speaker from The Idaho Conservation League — VERY disturbing and depressing.
Idaho (as well as Utah and Montana to some degree) are “down-winders” of gold mines in Northern Nevada. A new gold extraction process (ore is heated to 1,000 degrees) started in the mid-1990’s causes the mercury in the ore to vaporize. The industry has known of this since 1990’s, but there has been no law — Nevada has had a “self policing” regulation and you can guess how well that has worked.
In any case, these mines are each putting about 150 times the mercury into the air per year that a coal-fired power plant might do, which is about 125 lbs. per year. Idaho passed a law in 2004 that made it illegal to have coal-fired plants because of this. This was discovered somewhat accidentally in 2004. Of course Nevada and the mines claim it wasn’t them, but this has pretty much been proven.
The technology exists for scrubbers — and apparently they are not really all that expensive, yet only one of the mines has installed one.
As a consequence of this, most of the lakes and streams in southern Idaho have a health advisory about the fish — high levels of mercury. The mercury is everywhere downwind, and accumulates in the fish. It will take decades for this to abate from the environment, assuming it is stopped today.
As you might guess, the EPA has not been real active in trying to stop this (at high levels), although they have recently shut down one mine.
However, the horse is out of the barn. The Idaho Conservation League had to bring a lawsuit to get attention on the issue. Although there have been articles in the newspapers, people don’t seem to be aware, or grasp the size of what’s going on.
A broken thermometer will bring in the hazmat teams, but they’ve allowed these mining operations to spew tons of mercury. (Jim K., Boise, Idaho)
Jim: And when the wind changes, are these Nevada gold mines also polluting streams and lakes in California (and possibly Oregon and Arizona) with deadly mercury? I know, who the heck knows.
And we’re worried to death about global warming. What a mess. /Gary