Heavy metals move

  • Spokane River and Silver Valley

    Diane Sylvain
  Heavy metals accumulated from 100 years of mining in Idaho's Silver Valley (HCN, 11/25/96) are spreading into Washington state, and environmentalists and state officials there want a say in how to stop it.


"Just having Idaho control the cleanup doesn't hold any promise," said Michele Nanni of the Inland Empire Public Lands Council.


Last year, Washington spent $300,000 studying pollution in the Spokane River to determine whether grounds existed for a lawsuit against mining companies. State tests confirmed that dissolved lead, zinc and cadmium in excess of federal limits for protecting aquatic life do migrate from Lake Coeur d'Alene into the Spokane River during high flow periods.


Last May, the U.S. Geological Survey also tested the Spokane River, and in dissolved concentrations during flood stage, it found 3,300 pounds of lead, 17,000 pounds of zinc and 600 pounds of copper flowing by the test site on one day alone.


Meanwhile, to clean up the mess in Idaho, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe have sued the eight mining companies still operating in the area for $600 million. Now a federal judge in Boise is considering adding to the suit 23 more companies - including Atlantic Richfield Co. and Burlington Northern Railroad Co. Inc. - which have mined in the Silver Valley over the past century.


*Mark Matthews


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