Alaska officials are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take over cleanup operations for the mercury-oozing, abandoned Red Devil Mine from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
At least two dozen Alaska Native communities could be at risk from the mercury and other toxins that are still being discharged into the middle Kuskokwim River, the Alaska Dispatch reports. That includes inhabitants of the village of Red Devil, just two miles away from the source of contamination. Hundreds of people from these villages use the river for fishing, both commercial and subsistence, the Alaska Dispatch noted in an August 20 story.
Governor Sean Parnell, more known for going head-to-head with the EPA over the proposed Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay (which would operate under much stricter rules than the Red Devil Mine did, the newspaper noted), wrote a letter to the EPA through his attorney general, Michael Geraghty, asking for Red Devil’s placement on the Superfund list of national pollution-cleanup priorities.
In a letter that Geraghty wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, he said the BLM “has been unwilling to consider state comments and recommendations” on Red Devil and has not fulfilled “its responsibility on behalf of the federal government to properly assess and mitigate impacts,” the Alaska Dispatch reported. The BLM owns much of Alaska, including the land containing the mine, and is charged with cleaning up the site. But it has yet to do that, he wrote.
The BLM has held meetings this year with communities along the middle and lower Kuskokwim River to discuss studies, data and progress, as reported by The Delta Discovery.
Red Devil Mine’s above-ground lands will revert to the Native-owned Kuskokwim Corp., and the underground to the Calista Corp. in accordance with provisions in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, according to BLM’s website. The 1971 act settled the claim of Alaska’s Indian, Aleut and Eskimo populations to lands that the U.S. purchased from Russia in 1867.
The mine was in operation from 1933 through 1971, the BLM said. According to the Alaska Dispatch, arsenic and mercury at the site are at levels more than 100 times the federal limit. Fish-consumption advisories for pike and other fish atop the food chain (ocean-going wild salmon are considered clean because they do not live in those waterways) are still in place for women of child-bearing age and children after being issued last year.