U.S. Silver Corporation, owner and operator of the Coeur and Galena Mines and Mills near Wallace, Idaho, in the state’s “Silver Valley,” has agreed to pay $87,000 in penalties to settle alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced.
The agreement, detailed in a consent agreement and final order between the EPA and U.S. Silver, resolves the company’s alleged National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit violations and unpermitted discharges at the mines and mills, which the EPA says occurred from 2008 to 2010.
EPA officials familiar with the case confirm that U.S. Silver’s alleged violations included unpermitted discharges of mine tailings and exceeding the national discharge permit’s effluent limits for copper, lead, and mercury multiple times.
In addition to paying the $87,000 penalty, U.S. Silver recently made structural improvements to its tailings pipelines to reduce the risk of future spills, and encouraged employees to become more vigilant in preventing and reporting accidental spills.
The agency says that discharge violations in the Silver Valley are especially troubling.
“The South Fork Coeur d’Alene River and its tributary streams are struggling to recover from a century of mine waste discharge,” said Edward Kowalski, director of the EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle, “Companies need to ensure that they are not only meeting their permit obligations, but also investing in their plant and equipment to protect Idaho’s rivers and streams for future generations.”
The agency is currently carrying out an enforcement initiative aimed at reducing pollution from mining and mineral processing operations. The agency says that these facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, and that this waste poses a serious risk to public health and the environment. The EPA has recently targeted other mines in Idaho.
In April, P4 Production LLC, a mining company wholly owned by agriculture biotechnology corporation Monsanto, agreed to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty to settle alleged Clean Water Act violations.
The charges related to discharges of water at a mine in Soda Springs, Idaho, which the EPA said contained high levels of selenium and heavy metals.
These discharges allegedly polluted a nearby wetland and an unnamed tributary of Sheep Creek, as well as downstream waters that drain to the Snake River, the EPA said.
Pictured: A minehead at U.S. Silver Corp.’s Galena Mine.