In the “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison wrote “I believe in nothing if not action,” and the same could be said of the community activists in Silver Valley. It reads like a classic David vs. Goliath story. Dissident and, yes, underfunded non-profit takes on regulatory agency---in this case the EPA--- regarding a controversial waste repository site designed to contain mine waste across the road from Idaho’s oldest building, the Cataldo Mission. Said waste repository is in a floodplain, incongruously creating a potential for increased hazardous conditions of lead contamination. The activists bring out the EPA Inspector General who releases a report confirming that suspicion. (But he neglects to mention the fact construction began on the site before the public comment period ended.) And then construction continues despite the Inspector General’s insistence the site needs an additional review. More than 2,000 local residents petition and we’re left scratching our heads: What were they thinking?
We already posted a letter from Spokane Riverkeeper and Center For Justice attorney Rick Eichstaedt who concluded, "1) stop additional activities at the East Mission Flats repository site until complete information about the site is available and (2) require that EPA Region 10 conduct a public meeting to discuss with the public the results of the additional assessment work."
And now we’ve heard back from Debra Sherbina, who heads Community Involvement for EPA Region 10, which covers the Silver Valley mining cleanup. She sent us and the EPA’s Basin Bulletin Distribution List a letter hoping it would address many of our questions.
Your readers may be interested in learning more about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality are responding to a recent investigation by the EPA Office of Inspector General of the proposed East Mission Flats Superfund waste repository in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.
The Inspector General’s report endorsed the agencies’ public involvement work and did not disapprove of the repository location. The report did raise concerns about the potential effects of flooding. In response, EPA and IDEQ are performing more review and analysis. While some construction work is happening at the site, no contaminated soils are being permanently disposed of there until the additional review recommended by the IG is complete.
All of our work in the Coeur d’Alene Basin is aimed at protecting people and the environment from exposure to lead and other metals. The East Mission Flats repository is an important part of our continuing efforts to safely contain mine wastes. By confining and carefully managing the mine wastes as we have done throughout the Basin, we greatly reduce the chance that people will come into contact with the material, and therefore, greatly reduce health hazards.
We understand that people may not want a repository near their homes and communities, but repositories are a necessary reality of large-scale cleanups. They have a proven track record in the Silver Valley and elsewhere around the country as an effective way to protect people and the environment from contaminated materials.
We are committed to working with the communities in the Basin to complete the cleanup in the Basin and safeguard public health and the environment for current and future generations.
Toni Hardesty and Michelle Pirzadeh
For more information about the East Mission Flats Repository project, OIG Report and EPA’s response, visit our website HERE.
Granted, there’s obviously an honest argument to be made for cleaning the contaminated soil. Make no mistake, it’s there: From 1884 to 1968, 100 million tons of redistributed mine wastes were dumped in the floodplain between Cataldo Mission and Lake Couer d' Alene. Welcome to Silver Valley. Where else in the country can one find a town named Smelterville? But the bottom line: Construction is happening on a site that hasn’t been completely validated.
This is what the EPA Inspector General actually said in regards to the flooding at the location:
We found that many physical aspects of flooding have been investigated and considered in the design process. However, we also found that the geochemical aspects and potential for releasing dissolved contaminants had yet to be investigated. The proposed repository site is located in an area that floods annually. Region 10 and IDEQ have not sufficiently analyzed the geochemical conditions that are expected to form near the repository base, the potential for annual flooding to introduce water into the repository, and the possibility that dissolved contaminants will migrate away from the repository. In response to our concerns, Region 10 and IDEQ prepared a draft scope of work for the needed analysis. Much of that work was completed and included in Region 10’s response to our draft report. But the work leaves unresolved the amount of water that will be introduced into the repository with flooding and rising groundwater levels.
We’re pleased the EPA sought fit to reach out to us but it’s clear there needs to be another public meeting. Perhaps it’s too little too late since considering another site has never been on the table. But maybe not. Last month, Silver Valley Community executive director Barbara Miller went to the Waterkeeper Alliance conference in New York and she said plans for Bobby Kennedy Jr. to visit are in the works while she continues for supporters to contact EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and seek a moratorium on the site. Sometimes the Davids win, especially when possessed with the courage of their convictions.