EPA says half of all toxic releases into environment from mines

Thursday, April 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two-thirds of the toxic chemicals released into the U.S. environment in 1999 came from hard-rock mining companies and electric power plant operators, says the Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall, the amount of chemicals released in the United States increased by 5 percent from 7.3 billion pounds in 1998 to 7.7 billion pounds, the EPA said Wednesday in its annual Toxic Release Inventory.

It shows four mining states with the highest volume of toxic releases: Nevada and Utah, with 1.1 billion pounds each; Arizona, 963 million pounds; and Alaska, 433 million pounds. The same four states headed the list in 1998, the first year when mining wastes were calculated in the EPA report.

Nevada and Arizona showed decreases, but Utah more than doubled its releases, from 459 million pounds the previous year. Alaska's figure represented a more modest increase from 1998's 306 million pounds.

Environmental activists said the mining industry's ranking for the second year in a row as the top polluter underscores the danger posed by the Bush administration's rollbacks on hard-rock mining regulations and arsenic standards for drinking water _ and a potential action on lead pollution.

EPA officials cautioned the information should be used as a guide and not necessarily an indicator of health risk because the report provides no information on exposure or specific toxicity of the chemicals.

Despite the overall increases in toxic emissions, EPA administrator Christie Whitman pointed to a silver lining.

``This inventory is a powerful tool for helping to protect public health and the environment,'' she said. ``We're seeing constant decreases of emissions to air, land and water, especially in the manufacturing industries where there has been a 46 percent decrease over the 12-year history of the program.''

The EPA said hard-rock mining companies released 3.9 billion pounds of chemicals into the air, land and water, an increase of 11 percent from 1998. Electric utilities dumped more than 1.1 billion pounds, most of it into the air through coal-burning plant smokestacks, or 2 percent more than the year before.

In all, the broad section of industry, which for years has been required to make annual reports, released 2.3 billion pounds of toxic materials, 2 percent less than 1998.

Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said the data ``show hundreds of millions of pounds of releases of arsenic and billions of pounds of toxic pollution from mines, just weeks after the Bush administration suspended protections for both of these health threats.''

``The new information released today shows exactly why rolling back environmental protections is a terrible idea and why even thinking about rolling back our right to know about lead pollution is an even worse idea,'' he said.