While a toxic waste heap inches toward a northern New Mexico village, a mining company and the state crawl toward a reclamation plan.
In the 1960s, the mining company
Molycorp dumped wasterock from an open-pit molybdenum mine, leaving
a 1.6 million-cubic-yard toxic pile above the small town of Questa
(HCN, 8/28/00: The mine that turned the Red River blue).
Three years ago, engineers concluded that the dump was stable, and
Leroy Apodaca, manager of administration for Molycorp, calls the
mine a “good neighbor.”
But consultants for
Amigos Bravos, a Taos-based environmental group, say that neighbor
poses “an imminent danger to human safety.” And in
June, an independent review board of three mining experts —
jointly selected by Molycorp, Amigos Bravos and New Mexico state
officials — found that the wasterock pile is moving at a rate
of two inches per month. The board’s report also says heavy
rain or runoff could trigger a cataclysmic slide down the gulch,
across the Red River and into Questa.
designing a plan to reclaim the rock pile, and the state Office of
Emergency Management is creating an emergency action plan for
Questa. But a July memo from the independent review board says
Molycorp is downplaying the danger. “We still don’t
have any kind of warning or detection system in place,” says
Brian Shields, director of Amigos Bravos. “I don’t
understand what about ‘imminent’ they don’t