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More on BP: Bogus Propaganda on Mining Pollution

November 23, 2009

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that new testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has exposed the extent of pollution from a former Anaconda mine that was later inherited by BP subsidiary Atlantic Richfield. According to the agency testing, 79% of the six square miles of western Nevada copper mines are contaminated with dangerous levels of uranium and/or arsenic that threaten area drinking water supplies. In one well 10 miles north of the mine site, uranium was found at more than ten times the standard for drinking water.

BP and its Atlantic Richfield subsidiary, which bought the mine from Anaconda in 1978, initially denied that mining pollution is responsible for the water contamination, claiming that the problem is due to naturally occurring toxics from the mineral-rich Nevada mountains. In response to the new findings, the companies now acknowledge the mining pollution but suggest that the mine’s contribution to the drinking water contamination may be minimal.

In response to company claims that the pollution “…is mostly all natural,” Earle Dixon, the site’s former project manager for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), told the AP, “Well, no it’s not. We now know for a fact that most of this uranium as far as 2 miles out from the mine comes from the mine. This site becomes a poster child for mining pollution.”

Dixon raised the alert about the mining pollution in 2004, but was fired by BLM, which is responsible for the half of the site that sits on public land. In response, Dixon filed a whistleblower complaint under federal law, and last year, a federal panel vindicated his complaint, awarding him back pay and expenses.

The mining pollution started with Anaconda, which failed to line sulfuric acid ponds, allowing the toxic acid to leak into the ground. Decades later, tests found contaminants like uranium and arsenic in area wells. In 1979, the U.S. Geological Survey found arsenic, copper, iron and other contaminants 4,000 feet north of the site, and noted a deterioration in the quality of deep groundwater.

According to a 2006 report, in response to residents’ concerns, Atlantic Richfield would hand out free bottled water to homes where uranium threatened drinking-water. Former mine workers and area residents describe a litany of health problems they attribute to mining and its attendant pollutants. Tribal leaders from the Yerington Paiute band say that Native Americans on nearby tribal lands suffer from high rates of lung disease and other health issues.

Despite the company’s denials, earlier this year, Atlantic Richfield agreed to an EPA settlement of $10.2 million for clean-up at the site.

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