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:: Mining, NV Mining Top US Polluters
US metals mining releases more toxic chemicals into the environment than does any other industry, but the amount of emissions is declining; Nevada released 783.5 million lbs of toxic chemicals during 2001, down from 1.008 billion lbs reported in the 2000 TRI, but still number one.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report for 2001, releases from hard-rock mining for metals like copper, silver and gold made up largest portion of all chemical releases at 45%. But the metals mining industry also had the largest absolute decrease in chemicals in 2001, by 602.5 million pounds or 20%, from the previous year, EPA said. Metals mining released about 2.78 billion lbs of chemicals, including compounds containing lead, arsenic and mercury, in 2001. By comparison, about 17% was emitted from electric utilities, a decline of 8.5% from 2000, while chemical manufacturing accounted for 9.5% of all releases, down 14.5% from 2000.
Total releases nationwide fell 15.5%, or 1.05 billion lbs, from 2000, EPA said. Based on trends since the inception of TRI in 1988, chemical releases have fallen about 54.5%. Most chemicals, about 65%, went into land, both on-site and off-site in 2001, while 27% was released to the air, 4% to water, and another 4% to underground injection on- and off-site.
After Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Alaska were among the top four polluters. Utah reported 767.2 million lbs, followed by Arizona with 606.8 million lbs and Alaska with 522 million lbs. Texas followed Alaska with 271 million lbs, Ohio, with 255 million lbs, Pennsylvania, 207 million lbs, Indiana, 206 million lbs.
According to the charts, the county with the highest amount of toxic releases was Salt Lake County in Utah, 732 million lbs, followed by Alaska's Northwest Arctic, 432 million lbs, and Elko County in Nevada, 328 million lbs.
By chemical, the most pollution nationwide came from copper and zinc compounds, hydrochloric acid and lead, manganese, arsenic, nitrate and barium compounds.
The mining industry says that they shouldn't have to report movement of naturally occurring minerals to waste rock dumps as toxic releases. A court agreed after Barrick Gold fought the issue and won last month in US District Court in Washington, D.C., and EPA decided not to appeal the ruling.
Next year Nevada's numbers should be well under this year's said Nevada Mining Association President Russ Fields. Nevada would be reporting under the Barrick decision for 2002 since 85 to 90% of Nevada's numbers are based on rock movement, according to Mr Fields.
The National Mining Association concurred and said that more than 85% of the releases reported by hard-rock mines for the 2001 report were naturally occurring and handled and managed at the mine site. The mines argue these naturally occurring chemicals shouldn't be in the TRI, while Mineral Policy Center argues that the natural chemicals would not have been disturbed if not by mining, and the interaction of the natural chemicals can cause problems, such as acid rock drainage.
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