Cleanup to resume at Leviathan Mine Superfund site
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) – Water quality experts plan to renew treatment of polluted runoff this week from Leviathan Mine, the Superfund site that for years has belched a toxic stew of materials into a Carson River tributary.
This summer’s work, which for the first time will include the participation of the Atlantic Richfield Co., could produce a ”real breakthrough” in long-term efforts to clean a poisonous blight in the Sierra, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency said.
”This summer well really start to grapple with the long-term questions,” Kevin Mayer, EPA project manager, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Declared a Superfund site in May 2000, the abandoned sulfur mine has leaked a toxic mix of acids and dissolved metals into two creeks that drain into the Carson River, rendering parts of them incapable of supporting aquatic life.
The mine’s current owner, California’s Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, is expected this week to commence its third summer of chemically treating chocolate-colored runoff captured in the mines holding ponds, Mayer said. Once treated, the runoff can safely be released into streams, preventing an overflow of toxins such as occurred in the winter and spring of 1998 and 1999.
Mayer said the ponds can probably be emptied this summer at a treatment cost of about $1 million, making an overflow next winter highly unlikely even in the event of an extraordinarily wet season.
About $1 million will also be spent this summer by Arco, the company that owned the mine before it was acquired by California in the early 1980s, Mayer said. Arco’s efforts will focus on capturing runoff seeping into creeks downstream from the holding ponds toxins which otherwise enter the watershed without any treatment whatsoever.
Located in Alpine County, Calif., 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville, Leviathan Mine produced copper sulfate from 1863 until 1872, then was reopened for a six-year period to produce sulfur beginning in 1936. From the 1950s to early 1960s, open pit mining was used to extract sulfur until the mine was finally shut down in 1962.
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