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EPA Gives Five-Year Green Light to Silver Valley Towns for Metals Discharges

Release Date: 6/24/2004
Contact Information: Lisa Macchio
(206) 553-1834

June 24, 2004

Agency to allow Mullan, Smelterville, Page to exceed metals limits for five years

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that for the next five years, it will allow the towns of Smelterville, Page, and Mullan to discharge wastewater into the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River that exceeds water quality standards for allowable levels of some metals.

Smelterville and Page are receiving these “variances” for the discharges of cadmium, lead, and zinc from their municipal wastewater treatment plants while Mullan is receiving its variance for just cadmium and zinc. EPA, state, and local officials believe the metals problem in the wastewater is due largely to “infiltration and in-flow” of metals contaminated groundwater into the pipes that convey the towns’ wastewater.

The towns each have National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits which allow them to discharge treated domestic wastewater to the South Fork Coeur d=Alene River. The EPA granted the variances from the established standards after the towns demonstrated that the near-term costs to meet the state’s standards for the these metals would result in substantial and widespread adverse economic and social impacts. After completing its analysis of the towns’ financial health, the EPA granted the five-year variance.

In a separate action, the EPA has issued the NPDES wastewater discharge permits for these facilities. The permits reflect these granted variances, but require the towns to make reasonable progress toward meeting the state’s water quality standards for the metals. For example, the towns must begin investigating and reducing inflow and infiltration of metals into their treatment plants’ collection systems.

EPA is providing $800,000 to support the Mullan treatment plant’s demonstration project to address infiltration and inflow problems, as part of a Clean Water Act grant to the area’s Basin Commission. Nearly $180,000 in similar funding is supporting a South Fork Sewer District Wastewater Treatment Plant phosphorus and metals removal pilot study.