New Report: Mine Waste is Poisoning Our Waters

An eye-opening new report from our friends at Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada catalogues the wide range of damage to ecosystems, wildlife and human health caused by hardrock mining and identifies the world’s bodies of water in greatest jeopardy from toxic mine waste.

Download the report: Troubled Waters: How Mine Waste Dumping is Poisoning Our Oceans, Rivers and Lakes

Zortman Landusky mine
Acid mine drainage from the Zortman Landusky mine in Montana. Photo: Earthworks.
Today’s industrial-strength hardrock mining involves the blasting, excavating, and crushing of many thousands of acres of land and the use of huge quantities of toxic chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid–making it the single largest source of toxic waste and one of the most destructive industries in the country. The report finds:

Mining companies are dumping more than 180 million tonnes of hazardous mine waste each year into rivers, lakes, and oceans worldwide, threatening vital bodies of water with toxic heavy metals and other chemicals poisonous to humans and wildlife.

For too long, the mines that produce our gold, silver, copper, and uranium have been using our nation’s most pristine streams, lakes, and groundwater as dumping grounds for their toxic wastes. These are the waters from which we drink, in which our children swim, and which support our fish and wildlife.

In theory, the Clean Water Act should halt this destructive practice. Unfortunately, there are two “loopholes” in the regulations implementing the Clean Water Act that have allowed mine developers to circumvent the purpose of this critical law. A key recommendation from the “Troubled Waters” report states:

Two loopholes in the U.S. Clean Water Act, a law that was passed to protect water from industrial pollutants, allow mining companies to dump toxic mine waste untreated into rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. Governments should close loopholes and create a regulatory environment that puts the health of our water and ecosystems over corporate profits by prohibiting this unnecessary practice.

Grizzlies in Bristol Bay, Alaska and in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Montana are at risk from proposed mining projects. Photo: USFWS.
Controversial projects such as the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, PolyMet Mine in northern Minnesota, Mt. Emmons Mine in Colorado, and numerous existing mines in the West and Appalachia are relying on these loopholes to cut costs and justify extensive environmental damage. These proposed projects would transform some of our nation’s most pristine wildernesses into industrial mining districts and would destroy habitat for many threatened and endangered species.

The good news is, with a simple rule change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers can close these loopholes and stop Big Mining from using our waters as industrial waste dumps. Closing the loopholes would not prohibit hard rock mining but it would greatly reduce the negative environmental impacts from large mines.

National Wildlife Federation, along with Earthworks and other partners, is working to stop irresponsible mining practices which pollute the waters that sustain our communities, fish, and wildlife.

Urge the EPA and Army Corps to stop Big Mining from using our waters as industrial waste dumps.