For Immediate Release:
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Alan Septoff, Earthworks, 202.271.2355,
John Robison, Idaho Conservation League, 208.345.6933 x 13,

Washington, D.C.-A new study of U.S. gold mines’ operating records reveals that major gold mines surveyed by the U.S. Geological Survey have spilled contaminants, and 74% polluted water with cyanide, arsenic, nitrates or other hazardous materials. Earthworks and Great Basin Resource Watch released U.S. Gold Mines Spills & Failures Report the same day the House Natural Resources Committee is holding an oversight hearing on mining reform.

"While we appreciate the fact that some mining companies are trying to improve practices, this study confirms that gold mines have an appalling track record and inevitably end up polluting water," said John Robison, public lands director at the Idaho Conservation League. "Congress needs to look beyond the best-case scenarios promised by mining companies and look at the real impacts that these projects can have on streams and drinking water supplies-before it is too late."

Robison added that this report is timely in the context of the Stibnite Gold project proposed in Idaho. The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comments on this massive project located in the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River, an incredibly important watershed for fish, anglers  and floaters.  Previous mining at Stibnite created toxic pollution that contaminates the river to this day.

U.S. Gold Mines Spills & Failures Report surveys federal and state data and news reports to compile operating records at 27 operating U.S. gold mines accounting for 93% of national gold production, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The study reached several conclusions:

  • Gold mines always spill-Gold mines responsible for 93% of U.S. gold production have accidentally spilled cyanide, mine waste, diesel and other hazardous materials.
  • Gold mines almost always pollute water-74% of operating gold mines polluted surface and/or groundwater, including drinking water.
  • When gold mines don’t pollute water, it’s almost always because there is no water nearby-Of the mines that didn’t pollute water, only one had a perennial stream in the project area.

As the Energy and Minerals Resources subcommittee holds a hearing on "Seeking Innovative Solutions for the Future of Hardrock Mining," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds are polluted by hardrock mining, and abandoned hardrock mining reclamation will cost taxpayers more than $50 billion. In addition, a 2012 study shows that 92% of U.S. copper mines pollute water.

"The ,innovative’ solution we need for hardrock mining is simple," said Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks. She continued, "We need mining reform that prevents pollution, forces companies to pay to clean up when pollution occurs anyway, and gives communities a say as to whether and how mining occurs. Right now, hardrock mining is treated like a sacred cow relative to other industries."

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