Green Guide

Blocked pipe spilling tainted water over Idaho mine tailings

Posted April 15

— A blocked or broken pipe is causing tainted water in a pond to spill over the soil cap of an old mine's tailing pile on state-owned land in central Idaho.

The water contains orange iron oxide from water seeping from the tailings pile at the Triumph Mine about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Hailey.

State officials say the seepage doesn't pose a threat to the environment but children should avoid playing in the area.

"It's just not an area where you want to be hanging out in," said Rob Hanson, mine waste program manager with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. "We haven't tested it, so we don't know what's all there, but you definitely know there's iron. There's most likely some other metals there as well. Don't be messing with it."

The pipe will likely have to be replaced this summer, officials with the Idaho Department of Lands told the Idaho Mountain Express (http://bit.ly/2oHXtP3) in a story Friday.

Two tailing piles from the Triumph Mine were flattened and covered with soil in the 1990s to prevent arsenic-laden dust from coating yards and entering homes.

Officials say a main concern is if the flowing water cuts through the cap on the mine tailings. That could expose the tailings, leading to tailings dust becoming airborne and contaminating the area with arsenic and other pollutants.

"In high-water years like this, it's going to be expressed in those areas where you see the orange water coming out," Hanson said.

The mine produced ore containing silver, lead and zinc from 1882 to 1957. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality in 1998 found elevated concentrations of arsenic, zinc and manganese in surface water in drainage ditches.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed making the area a superfund site in 1993, but residents objected, fearing a drop in property values.

Mine owner Asarco eventually went bankrupt, leaving Idaho to deal with the mine.

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