EPA Enacts Mercury Emissions Rule for Gold Mines

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"The new regulations only permit 84 pounds of mercury emissions for every million tons."

Environmentalists have praised the EPA's decision to toughen regulation and monitoring of airborne mercury emissions from U.S. gold mines utilizing provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The new regulations only permit 84 pounds of mercury emissions, for every million tons of ore processing by mines using autoclaves and roasters. Existing precious metals operations now produce 129.6 pounds of mercury emission per one million tons of ore.

Washington, D.C.-based NGO EARTHWORKS claimed that, of the 12 largest emitters of mercury air pollution among U.S. gold mines, eight are in Nevada.  They include Barrick's Goldstrike and Ruby Hill mines; Queenstake Resources'  Jerritt Canyon Mine; Newmont's Twin Creeks, South Carlin, Midas, and North Carlin mines; the Ruby Hill Mine; and Standard Mining. Out-of-state major emitters of mercury pollution include Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold operations in Arizona, the C.R. Biggs Mine in California; Kennecott's copper concentrator outside of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Wharf Resources in South Dakota.

The regulations also impact mines in Alaska, Colorado, Montana and Washinton.

Four northeastern Nevada gold mines began voluntarily reducing their mercury emissions from roaster in 2001. On March 2006, Nevada's Environmental Commission adopted the Nevada Mercury Air Emissions Control program, modeled on the voluntary program.

However, environmental groups in several states and officials in Utah and Idaho claimed Nevada's regulations weren't inadequate. Health officials in Idaho blame Nevada mines for mercury contamination at fishing reservoirs near the Idaho-Nevada borders. In Utah, high concentrations of mercury have been found in the Great Salt Lake, potentially impacting waterfowl who may migrate through Utah.

Meanwhile, the EPA decided to build on the reductions from Nevada's program for controlling mercury emissions.

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