AP Report: Mercury Pollution in Central Valley

The Associated Press reports that abandoned mercury mines in the western hills of the Central Valley are still polluting California’s streams, lakes, the delta and the bay. Sources are widespread, located from Clear Lake in the north to the San Joaquin River in the south. Even the hills near San Jose have mines that drain to south San Francisco Bay.

Read the Story at http://tinyurl.com/mq96a6

Crap. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about. I thought this only happened in Appalachia.  

California once produced 90% of the nation’s mercury. Much of it went to the Sierras during the gold rush, where it was spilled into local waterways. Mining ceased decades ago. but there are at least 550 known mines. Some estimates put the total as high 2,000.

Everybody who eats Pacific fish is affected by this, but the impact is hardest on Native American tribes, who live on or near the old mine sites, and the Central Valley’s poor, who engage more in subsistence fishing in streams nearer to the sources.

Mercury gets into our environment from many sources: Coal burning power plants, cement kilns, discarded thermometers, rainfall tainted by air pollution from Asia. Mercury taken up and stored by plants gets released during forest fires too. California isn’t the only place where this happens. A USGS study completed in 2005 found measurable levels of mercury in fish taken from 290 streams across the U.S. One quarter of those had unsafe levels.

The headline of the current AP story is, “Government Stands by as Mercury Taints Water”. Good work fellas – wait until the Democrats are in charge before you spring this.

The cleanup of old mines depends largely on the Federal Government pressing the mine owners with legal action. Such actions dropped by 70% during the BushCo years. Here in California, so many mines have been abandoned for so long, that the only property owner left to go after is a beleaguered cattle rancher.

California Democrats put mercury on the warning labels created by Prop-65. We banned the sale of new mercury thermostats in 2006, and legislation creating a statewide recycling program (AB 2347, Ira Ruskin) was signed by the Governor last April.

The largest Superfund site in the U.S. is the Sulphur Bank mercury mine at Clear Lake. I’d like to see many more sites designated. Cleanup work might even contribute some  economic stimulus to rural California. We have got to protect our water.