I must reply to the article in The Union dated Nov. 30 and titled, "Toxic mine cleanup is planned, Feds to tackle arsenic-laden Lava Cap Mine."
This is only the most recent of several articles published with similar wording by The Union in the past.
To understand the article and the Environmental Protection Agency, one must first realize that the EPA's policies are dictated by a few people who have taken Chemistry 101 for non-chemistry majors, as well as by a great number of lawyers and administrators who have no chemical training at all. The EPA has, in its relatively short life, spent more than $3 trillion, which is 40 percent of our current national debt. Additionally, only 12 percent of the $3 trillion has been spent on efforts to clean up Superfund Sites while 88 percent has been spent by the lawyers and administrators.
According to the EPA, the Lava Cap tailings "contain arsenic at hazardous levels as well as other contaminants." While the EPA has established limits for arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion and arsenic in air of 10 millionths of a gram per cubic meter of air, they have set no limit on arsenic in soil, rock or mine tailings. With no limit, how can they label it hazardous?
Unfortunately, the EPA does not distinguish between total arsenic and soluble arsenic. The arsenic at the Lava Cap and other places in the county is primarily arsenopyrite, an iron-arsenic sulfide that is soluble only in the strongest of acids and could be ingested with no deleterious effects except perhaps constipation. When analyzing a sample containing arsenic, the EPA procedure is to treat it with nitric acid, which takes even arsenopyrite into solution and thus gives a totally wrong impression as to the amount of hazardous arsenic (if any) present in the sample. They also classify the arsenopyrite in the mine tailings as hazardous because they think it might possibly be inhaled after becoming airborne by either gusts of wind or being kicked up by people walking on the tailings. The EPA claimed that lead in the Empire Mine tailings was hazardous for the same reason. However, the barricades that were installed by the park to prevent visitors from walking on the tailings have been quietly removed. None of the Grass Valley children who have played baseball there in the past has become an idiot.
The EPA claims there is hazardous arsenic in well water of the Lava Cap area (the concentrations found were lower than 10 ppb set by the EPA) but also states that simple filtering removes it. The EPA doesn't realize that the well water contains solid particles of innocuous arsenopyrite that did not originate in the tailings but can be easily removed by this process.
A publication of the Natural Resource Defense Council states that the average and maximum parts per billion concentrations of arsenic in the drinking water of Los Angeles are 6.9 and 73.3, of Albuquerque 14.2 and 60 and of Riverside, CA 5.4 and 100. The drinking water of the city of Ajo, Ariz., contains 22 ppb of arsenic and no one in the more than 100 year history of Ajo has ever been made sick from drinking it. (Ajo means garlic in Spanish, and the city is named after the garlic or arsenic smell of its drinking water.) None of those cities have ever been named Superfund Sites by the EPA.
Another recent uproar in The Union concerned the finding of "hazardous" permanganate in the Gold Flat area of Nevada City. Those of us who are veterans of the South Pine theater of World War II will remember having our ears and feet being constantly painted purple with permanganate to cure skin fungus. The medics shaved and painted my head purple to cure jungle rot. Thank the Lord that the EPA didn't exist then, or we would have to have stopped fighting the war.
The EPA is now sampling the rivers flowing westward from the Sierra to find traces of cyanide supposedly left by the miners. They don't know (or won't admit) that there are literally hundreds of plants that produce cyanide that gets into the streams. They also don't seem to know that cyanide is completely self-destructing when exposed to air and sunlight and has never harmed an innocent bystander.
The people of Nevada County can sleep easy now that they know they won't be poisoned by the old-time miners. On the other hand, they might get killed by the hoards of EPA people rushing around trying to establish more Superfund Sites and uselessly spend the taxpayers' money.
Robert S. Shoemaker of Grass Valley holds master's degrees in chemistry and metallurgical engineering, has consulted on the metallurgy of 120 gold recovery plants worldwide and is interested in seeing that the public has correct information concerning their environment.