Mining and mineral extraction is required for our society.
The very existence of everything in our daily lives. from lightbulbs to paint, automobiles to solar panels, fence posts too ocean liners requires mining on an industrial scale.
Unique combinations of thousands of different minerals are required to fuel our modern existence.
Unfortunately, there is a necessary downside to all of this mining. Mines produce waste and release high levels of toxic metals and chemicals that can be very dangerous to humans.
As a result, the United States has many toxic mining sites today. Most of the worst locations have been mined for centuries, with the damage being done during a time when pollution was not a concern. Centuries later we are still dealing with the challenges.
Below are 10 incredibly toxic mining sites in the United States.
Globe has been mined extensively primarily for copper, along with silver and other minerals. The mining and smelting that has taken place in this region has caused widespread contamination of soils and waterways. Lead and arsenic are some heavy metal pollutants along with sulfuric acid and other dangerous chemicals that have found their way into the environment.
Eagle Mine, Colorado
The Eagle Mine is a superfund site near the town of Minturn. The Eagle River flows right through the site, causing unique challenges for cleanup efforts. There is over 70 miles of underground tunnels. The tailings and slurry from the mill sites hold considerable toxins. The main contaminants include arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc that has found its way into the groundwater. Exposure to these toxins can result in serious health issues.
Butte was home to the richest copper ore bodies in the United States. Once known as the “Richest Hill on Earth,” the region is now best known for its massive, toxic Berkeley Pit. Birds that land in the waters at the bottom of the pit die quickly due to the acidic toxic water. Butte is now considered the largest Superfund Site in America.
Gold mining began in the late 1800s, with copper and silver mining to soon follow. Discharge from these underground mining operations and poor waste disposal have made their way to the Alamosa River and other drainages. Considerable cleanup has taken place at this site, and continues to this day.
Blackbird Mine, Idaho
One of Idaho’s most important mines is the Blackbird Mine. Once mined for silver and copper, it is now active as one of the best sources of cobalt in America. Tailings from historic workings at the mine have resulted in dangerous exposure to arsenic, cobalt and copper. Considerable cleanup and mitigation has been done at this site, but considerable pollutants have made their way into Panther Creek and downward into the Salmon River drainage.
Bunker Hill Mine, Idaho
The Bunker Hill complex encompasses an area of over 1,500 square miles. This is one of the richest silver mining regions on Earth that date back to the 1880s. Of course, early mining operations gave little regard to the contaminants from the mines, and poor disposal of tailings allowed dangerous mineral to leach into the waters. Hundreds of mines and prospects in this region contribute to the pollution. Soil, air, groundwater have all been effected, with dangerous levels of lead and zinc.
Tar Creek, Oklahoma
Tar Creek was a mine site that extracted lead and zinc for the making of bullets during the World Wars. Mining waste was left in big piles on the surface. Dangerous levels of cadmium, lead and zinc. Millions of tons of waste has been cleaned from this site, but the job isn’t done yet.
The Anaconda Company Smelter Site was located in Anaconda, where it processed millions of tons of copper ore from the adjacent mines of Anaconda and Butte. Over a century of smelting operations have caused incredibly high amounts of toxins associated with the production of copper. Soils high in arsenic, cadmium, copper lead and zinc cover this entire region.
Red Dog Mine, Alaska
The EPA recently gave Kotzebue, Alaska the unwanted designation as the most industrially polluted town in the US. This is due to the nearby Red Dog Mine, which produces 700+ million pounds of toxins annually from its lead/zinc mining operation. Other native villages nearby such as Kivalina and Koatak are also heavily impacted from the mine.
A massive pile of residue from a zinc smelting operation is now known simply as the Palmerton Zinc Pile. The New Jersey Zinc Company deposited over 33 million tons of slag at the site, an area that encompasses over 2.5 miles. Toxic soils from the pile have caused polluted groundwater from runoff into Aquashicola Creek and Lehigh River.