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Talache Mine Owners Ordered to Stabilize Waste Piles
Release Date: 6/18/1998
Contact Information: Mark Ryan
June 18, 1998 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 98-34
For Immediate Release
To protect water quality in the Middle Fork of the Boise River and the health of people near Atlanta, Idaho, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Unilateral Administrative Order to Monarch Greenback, LLC, to begin immediate cleanup actions at the site of a mine tailings pile that collapsed in May, 1997.
According to Michael Gearheard, Superfund cleanup Chief at EPA’s Regional Headquarters in Seattle, today’s order directs the Company to stabilize the collapsed tailing pile at the Talache Mine in central Idaho and prevent further sediment and metals pollution to the Middle Fork of the Boise River.
"This order will guarantee that the necessary cleanup action moves forward this summer," Gearheard said. "We share the state of Idaho’s concern that the Talache site, poses a significant environmental risk to the Middle Fork of the Boise and the community. By using our Superfund authority, we can complement the initial cleanup actions taken by the State of Idaho and the Forest Service, while accelerating the overall cleanup process. So far, we’ve dodged a big bullet here. We need to begin stabilizing these waste piles immediately."
The May 15, 1997, failure released an estimated 30,000 cubic yards of tailings in slurry form. Tailings contain high concentrations of arsenic and lower concentrations of other heavy metals(antimony, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, selenium, silver, zinc, aluminum and mercury).
The tailings pile failure resulted in a massive wall of slurry that rolled down the hill, through a lower tailings pile, through a wooded area, across a wetland, and into Montezuma Creek. The initial force of the discharge was so powerful that it left splash marks nine feet high on trees located one quarter mile below the tailings pile. The outflow from the blowout covered approximately 70 acres with contaminated wastes(25 acres were wetlands covered to a depth of one foot. Tailings material was also deposited along almost 3,000 feet of stream bed. The remaining material was deposited in upland areas or entered Montezuma Creek. The tailings deposited in or near the creek banks continue to leach into the creek.
Montezuma Creek runs into the Middle Fork of the Boise River. The Middle Fork provides habitat for bull trout, which has recently been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A nearby high quality wetland has also been damaged by the collapse.
The Idaho Division of Environmental Quality has directed the initial phase of the cleanup. Working together with Monarch Greenback and the U.S. Forest Service (since part of the site includes land managed by the Boise National Forest), they have addressed several areas of concern. Their effort has so far resulted the construction a series of sedimentation basins below the tailings pile and removal of approximately 7,000 cubic yards of tailings from the wetland area. A large portion of the tailings remain in the wetlands today.
Protective measures taken so far fail to adequately protect the environment and the Middle Fork of the Boise. "The possibility of future tailings pile failures remains," EPA’s Gearheard added. "And the limited statutory authority and financial resources available to the State make it very difficult for them to guarantee a timely clean up of the site. We need to move on this today."
Monarch Greenback has five days to respond by providing EPA with written notice of its intent to comply with the order. In addition, the order requires Monarch Greenback to provide EPA with a written work plan that describes how Monarch Greenback will perform the required removal action.
In the event that Monarch Greenback fails to comply with the order, EPA is prepared to perform the work and bill the company.
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