Bunker Hill Mining Superfund Megasite

The EPA recently began a field investigation in the Coeur d’Alene Basin located in the panhandle of Idaho and Eastern Washington. This field investigation is just one in an extensive Superfund cleanup that was initiated in the 1980s. The Coeur d’Alene Basin was one of the largest metal mining productions in the world, and deposited approximately 100 million tons of mine waste into local environments and river systems up until 1968. Today, an estimated 160 miles of the local waters are contaminated; about 20 miles of water sources are unable to sustain fish populations, and about 10 miles of tributaries have virtually no aquatic life. Superfund requirements now extend to areas throughout the 1,500-square-mile Coeur d’Alene Basin.

Many Basin communities, including Kellogg, Smerlterville, Pinehurst, and Wardner were built on top of mine wastes. In the 1970s, lead poisoning in children in the Basin was epidemic. Thankfully, since cleanup began in 1983, poisoning levels appear to be approaching those of general U.S. population children. Lung cancer lawyers are concerned about the future health risks associated with such contamination. Cleanup efforts, though generally sound, will not completely rid the area of contamination. According to an evaluation requested by Congress and administered by the National Research Council, there are no appropriate repositories to hold proposed amounts of excavated materials, and establishing them in the basin will be extremely difficult. Furthermore, the potential long-term effectiveness of proposed remedial actions is severely limited by frequent flooding events in the basin and their potential to recontaminate areas with contaminated sediments.

Cleanup efforts were strongly opposed both locally and within the Idaho state government, partially stimulated by fear of the economic consequences of having the entire basin declared a Superfund site. The effects of psychological stress on mental health are not considered in the Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA). However, there is strong scientific evidence that living in or near an area designated as a Superfund site is associated with increased psychological stress and may also cause adverse health effects.

Exposure to toxic chemicals generally is perceived to involve “invisible” contaminants not detectable by the senses. For this reason, the presence of a toxic waste site may induce chronic stress independent of actual chemical exposure. Living near a toxic waste site is associated with health effects that can be slow in onset and insidious in nature. Often, little technical information is available to families about the likelihood of exposure and effects, leaving them uncertain about their actual risk. Helplessness and fear of the unknown are also common complaints in such communities.

The river basin HHRA considered which chemicals of potential concern might pose a human health risk for each medium of possible exposure: soil/sediment, tap water, surface water, groundwater, house dust, air, fish consumption, and homegrown vegetables. The HHRA found that without significant remedial actions, the populations are most at risk from arsenic and lead exposures, and those children ages 1 to 4 are the group at highest risk from lead and asbestos exposure.

Ingestion of inorganic arsenic is an established cause of skin, bladder, and lung cancer. Many non-cancer health outcomes are also associated with arsenic exposure, including effects on the skin, cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, hematologic, and renal systems. Toxic exposures to lead during early childhood and even fetal life can lead to permanent neurologic deficits.

Superfund mega-sites are often defined as those sites with projected cleanup costs expected to exceed $50 million and include massive amounts of wastes resulting from many years of mining activities. An effective program for mining mega-sites should emphasize long-term adaptive management. The desirable program components are a stable management structure, long-term monitoring components, active state and local involvement in the remediation process, a broad perspective regarding what actions should be undertaken in addition to cleanup, and long-term funding.

People who believe they have been exposed to toxic chemicals tend to develop chronic stress, with symptoms including depression, a feeling of lack of control of the environment, increased family quarrels, increased health worries, and increased intrusive and avoidant thoughts. Trust in both government agencies and scientific experts erodes when communities perceive a failure to adequately respond to toxic contamination.

Toxic substances exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand the devastating effects Superfund sites may have on the well-being of families. Our attorneys are nationally respected, and are currently taking cases involving hazardous chemical exposure throughout the country. If you suspect exposure, and developed a related illness, contact our firm immediately for a free legal consultation.

Free Consultation
  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your email.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter your message.