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Fifty-Two Defendants Dropped From Cleanup Lawsuit

Release Date: 8/21/1997
Contact Information: Mary Jane Nearman
(206) 553-6642 or 1-800-424-4EPA

August 21, 1997 . . . . . . . . . . 97-53

Fifty-two companies whose activities in northern Idaho were investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been eliminated from consideration as possible defendants in the federal government's pending lawsuit that seeks to restore about 1,500 contaminated square miles within the Coeur d'Alene Basin.

Removal of the companies from consideration for the lawsuit was announced today by Chuck Findley, deputy regional administrator at EPA's Northwest regional office in Seattle.

The eliminated parties were among the 80 companies that over the past two months have been asked by EPA for information that would help determine if their involvement in Coeur d'Alene Basin mining activities caused contamination that warranted adding them as defendants.

"After carefully reviewing all of the information we gathered from many sources, we decided these companies should not be brought into the lawsuit," Findley said.

With 52 of the 80 companies dropped from further consideration, the remaining parties are being evaluated as potential defendants.  The Department of Justice must decide by a court-imposed August 29 deadline whether to add them to the lawsuit.  Names of the these parties will not be released until Justice makes its decision known next week by issuing an amended complaint.

Cost estimates for cleanup of the Coeur d'Alene Basin are generally expressed in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Findley said, and include Superfund cleanup costs associated with the former Bunker Hill mine and smelter complex at Kellogg.

Any new defendants would be added to the eight defendants named when the federal government filed its complaint in 1996 in U.S. District Court in Boise.  The original defendants are ASARCO Inc. and two ASARCO subsidiaries, Government Gulch Mining Company Inc. and Federal Mining and Smelting Inc.; Hecla Mining Company; Sunshine Mining Company Inc.; Sunshine Precious Metals Inc.; Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation and Callahan Mining Corporation.

The plaintiffs in the case are EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Interior and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

EPA is a plaintiff for the purpose of recovering any funds spent by the government to clean up contamination attributed to mining-related activities in the basin.  The other plaintiffs have asserted claims for natural resource damages, as well as for their cleanup costs on certain areas.

The government's complaint alleges that more than 70 million tons of mine wastes have been deposited into the Coeur d'Alene Basin by the defendants. The wastes, according to the complaint, continue to seep into the soil and water where they seriously injure or destroy wildlife and vegetation.

To determine the costs needed to restore the natural resources in the basin, the federal agencies and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe are jointly conducting a damage assessment which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.  

Findley said EPA will try for settlements with all the defendants.

"EPA's interest is to achieve cleanup, with responsible parties playing a role in the cleanup that is proportionate to the contributions they made to the Coeur d'Alene Basin contamination,"  Findley said.  "EPA would like to keep defendants from becoming mired in litigation or running up big legal bills.

"EPA is trying to be fair to everyone, to the companies who sent in the information, to the original defendants in the lawsuit, to the public and to the environment.  Our action today is a major step that will help return the Coeur d'Alene Basin to its full environmental and recreational potential."