Most of us know the colorful history of mining towns and miners, but are you also aware that this legacy includes approximately 500,000 abandoned mines - mostly in the western United States?
Threats to Water
Vital waterways are polluted by these abandoned mines, many of which were built for extracting hardrock minerals like gold, silver, copper, uranium and lead. Some of these sites now pose serious threats to the health and safety of communities downstream.
Mining has contaminated at least 40 percent of stream reaches in the headwaters of western watersheds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Much of this pollution is due to abandoned mines.
Threats to the Taxpayer
Total clean-up estimates for abandoned mine range from $32 billion to $72 billion. The American taxpayer is on the hook for almost all of that cost.
Unlike the the coal mining industry, the metal mining industry pays no fee to clean up its legacy of abandoned mines.
For more information:
- Earthworks/Mineral Policy Center: Burden of Gilt
- Earthworks: Inventory of abandoned mines in the western United States. Maps (pdfs) of abandoned mine locations at the state and county level.
- General Accountability Office: Abandoned Mines: Information on the Number of Hardrock Mines, Cost of Cleanup, and Value of Financial Assurances. 2011 testimony provides the most conservative government estimate of abandoned mine numbers and reclamation costs.
Environmental Protection Agency: Abandoned Mine Lands.
EPA's central information repository regarding abandoned mine issues.
Western Governor's Association: Cleaning Up Abandoned Mines - a western partnership.
A 1998 joint report with the National Mining Association remarkable primarily because the industry also acknowledges the extent of the problem encompasses hundreds of thousands of mines.