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Iron Mountain Mine the Gold Standard for Environmental Hazards

In the shadow of the more or less pristine Mt. Shasta and Trinity Alps lies one of the most contaminated sites on Earth. Now an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, the Iron Mountain Mine has been undergoing remediation for over two decades and has been acknowledged as an environmental problem for over a century.

With the help of federal stimulus funding, officials are fast-tracking dredging work on a downstream reservoir to contain extremely toxic mine wastes that could reach the Sacramento River, endangering not just threatened salmon and steelhead, but also the water supply for the city of Redding (population 80,865).

The three year dredging project is now scheduled to take just 18 months, thanks in part to an infusion of the stimulus cash. “They’ve done an excellent job,” said John Merz, President of the Sacramento River Conservation Trust, a local environmental organization. “They’re basically capping a mountain. They’re trying to keep water from venturing into the mine, and diverting water from the creek system,” Merz said.

Current work seeks to remove and isolate toxic sediment that built up in the Kesiwick Reservoir over the decades. Remediation work already done on Spring Creek will prevent that from being replenished.

Just how toxic is the runoff? Scientists have recorded the liquid leaching out of the mine as so acidic, its pH value is in negative territory. According to local lore, water in the mine has dissolved the soles of the shoes worn by remediation crews.  It also appears to have dissolved a steel shovel left in liquid flowing from the mine for just one day.

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