BOISE, Idaho - In a deal hailed as a first nationwide, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to let Idaho environmental authorities take the lead in cleaning up old mine tailings in Triumph, near Sun Valley.
question is, will the state be any more successful than the EPA in
devising a cleanup plan for the town's 1 million tons of mine
wastes that contain high levels of arsenic and
In the 27-page memorandum of agreement, the
EPA hinted that it might also drop Triumph from the Superfund list
of sites considered most in need of cleanup. That's what Triumph's
50 residents wanted all along - to get off the proposed list and
boot the EPA out of town (HCN, 9/20/93).
agree that there's some reasonable housekeeping kinds of things
that should be done, but this site is not a national priority,"
says long-time Triumph activist Donna Rose, an art dealer. "This
should be such a clean, easy project; it should be a one-summer
Rose suggests that the "potentially
responsible parties' - the Idaho Department of Lands, ASARCO
Minerals Inc. and Triumph Minerals - should cap the 40 acres of old
mine tailings with clay or clean dirt and "make a golf course out
The state and ASARCO hope to clean up
the site for less than $10 million, a far cry from early EPA
estimates that exceeded $100 million.
The EPA has
not backed off from its earlier assessment of danger. Agency
officials maintain that Triumph's score of 90.3 - the highest
hazardous ranking affixed to any Superfund site in the nation - was
The EPA also asserts that some
residential yards should be dug up to reduce the potential exposure
of young children playing outside to arsenic and leaded soils.
While Idaho Health authorities do not plan to force any yard
excavations on residents, they will offer to remove contaminated
soil. They also believe fences and signs should be erected to warn
people of potential health dangers.
places, there are high enough arsenic readings for an acute and
significant exposure event," says Steve West, a Health Division
West says the state has a higher
responsibility to the public at-large - people who might wander
into the area without knowing of the danger - and there may be ways
to install signs or fences in an "aesthetically pleasing"
Donna Rose says there's no reason to
discuss signs and fences. "The EPA tried to do that and we ran them
out of town," she says.
The community and the EPA
probably will never agree on the issue of health dangers.
Blood-lead and urine-arsenic screenings for the last three years
have not shown any alarming levels in adults or children. The tests
have shown slightly elevated levels of arsenic in a few people,
causing concern among EPA and state Health Division officials.
Residents say they're not worried. People, including 1994 Olympic
ski champion Picabo Street, have grown up in Triumph near mine
tailings, without a single known case of
Under the new agreement, the EPA can take
back responsiblity from the state if it does not like the
Nevertheless, for the EPA to try to turn
the Triumph site over to state authorities was a major coup. Rose
credits Idaho Rep. Mike Crapo's chief of staff, John Hoehne, with
doing much of the leg work.
Rose is hopeful
residents of Triumph and the state can agree on an acceptable
cleanup plan, even if they disagree on health risks. A final plan
may be ready by late 1995, and the tailings could be capped by
And then, Rose says, she's ready to do
battle with the EPA full time as a community environmental
consultant. "These people are out of control, and we, the
taxpayers, are paying them to do it," she says. "I never would have
believed this could happen if I hadn't lived it."
writes in Boise, Idaho.