Opinion

Terri Hansen: Far too many Superfund sites in Indian Country






A view of the Tar Creek Superfund site in Oklahoma. Large piles of waste, known as chat, can be seen in the background. Photo from EPA

Terri Hansen highlights a few of the 532 Superfund sites in Indian Country:
Of a total of 1,322 Superfund sites as of June 5, 2014, nearly 25 percent of them are in Indian country. Manufacturing, mining and extractive industries are responsible for our list of some of the most environmentally devastated places in Indian country, as specified under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the official name of the Superfund law enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980. Most of these sites are not cleaned up, though not all of the ones listed below are still active. Some sites are capped, sealing up toxics that persist in the environment. In cases like the Navajo, the Akwesasne Mohawk and the Quapaw Tribe, the human health impacts are known because some doctors and scientists took enough interest to do studies in their regions. Some of those impacts may persist through generations given the involvement, as in the case of the Mohawk, of endocrine disrupters.

The Salt Chuck Mine Superfund site in southeast Alaska operated as a copper-palladium-gold-silver mine from 1916 to 1941. Members of the Organized Village of Kasaan, a federally recognized tribe, traditionally harvested fish, clams, cockles, crab and shrimp from the waters in and around Salt Chuck, unaware for decades that areas of impact were saturated with tailings from the former mine. As if that weren’t enough, Pure Nickel Inc. holds rights to mining leases in the area and began active exploration to do even more mining in summer 2012, according to Ground Truth Trekking.

The Elem Band of Pomo Indians, whose colony was built on top of the waste of what would become California’s Sulfur Bank Mine Superfund site in 1970, have elevated levels of mercury in their bodies, and now fear for their health. According to an NBC News investigation, nearby Clear Lake is the most mercury-polluted lake in the world, despite the EPA’s spending about $40 million over two decades trying to keep mercury contamination out of the water. Although the EPA cleaned soil from beneath Pomo homes and roads, pollution still seeps beneath the earthen dam built by the former mine operator, Bradley Mining Co. For years, Bradley Mining has fought the government’s efforts to recoup cleanup costs.

Get the Story:
Terri Hansen: Kill the Land, Kill the People: There Are 532 Superfund Sites in Indian Country! (Intercontinental Cry Magazine 6/18)