Federal cleanup funds for local mines?



The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a plan that would provide federal money to clean up two of the county’s abandoned mercury mines.

“I’m glad to see that these sites need to be cleaned up and that the EPA is taking the lead on it,� said Curtis Batson, director of environmental health for San Luis Obispo County.

The EPA wants to label the mines as Superfund sites — a designation that would potentially give the EPA more resources from the federal government to help with cleanup and disposal of toxic material. Ninety-eight of the 1,244 federal Superfund sites are located in California. These are the first proposed Superfund sites in San Luis Obispo County.

Before the mines can be officially designated, the EPA has initiated a 60-day public comment period.

“This is an opportunity for the public to comment on our proposed action,� said Laura Gentile, public affairs officer for the EPA. “Then we have to address these comments before we take any action.�

The mercury and ore processing sites at the Buena Vista mine and adjacent Klau mine were active from 1868-1970. In 2000 the EPA removed 114,000 cubic yards of contaminated material from the site. Harold Biaggini owns the Buena Vista mine and has denied that the site is harmful to the environment. In 1997 he pleaded guilty to violating federal clean water laws.

Mercury from the site has leached into local waterways, forcing local and state officials to issue health advisories to anglers after contaminated bass were found there in 1994. Officials believe mercury from the mines has seeped into Las Tablas Creek. Las Tablas Creek flows into Lake Nacimiento.

That mercury contamination is one reason that a major national environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, highlighted Lake Nacimiento as one of the nation’s worst-monitored and most polluted bodies of water. In 2003, the lake was the only California body of water included in the group’s “Beach Bums� list.

Mercury is less dangerous in the air, but when it is combined with water it becomes more hazardous. According to the EPA, people are exposed to mercury primarily through eating fish.

To comment on the EPA’s proposed Superfund listing for the mines, contact Dawn Richmond at (415) 972-3097 or at [email protected]. ³

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