Rio Tinto Mining Update: Uranium and Landslide
Results from a follow up study were released recently and have confirmed that uranium detected in the water at the mine is not leaving the facility. The initial monitoring results indicated a high concentration of uranium in water samples from the bottom layer of the Temporary Development Rock Storage Area (TDRSA) at Eagle Mine in Northern Marquette County. The samples confirmed the presence of uranium at 72.6ug/L, a level of uranium that exceeds the federal maximum concentration level for drinking water. The lab results from Underwriters Laboratory on April 5, 2013 indicate that low levels of uranium were present in the water coming into the water treatment plant (0.46 ug/L) and uranium was not detected in the water leaving the facility. No regulation of uranium or limits for uranium were in Rio Tinto’s state permits, thus no violation was cited.
It is critical to note, however, that uranium does not simply disappear through the wastewater treatment process. Solids that are contained during the treatment process will be going to the local municipal landfill. While those amounts are small at this time, they can certainly accumulate over time if this issue is recurring. That would leave many “small” deposits of uranium bearing solids in our local landfills. This fact certainly warrants further investigation.
In other news from Rio Tinto a massive landslide has shut down Bingham Canyon Mine on April 12,2013. The world’s largest man-made excavation located in Utah and run by Kennecott Utah Copper (which is owned by Rio Tinto) was evacuated the day before the landslide due to warning signs. Two thirds of the pit base was left buried and the landslide smashed roads and buildings, however no one was hurt. The walls of the mine had been slipping a millimeter each day starting in February. The employees are being asked to voluntarily take vacation time or unpaid time off or to continue working and being paid for tasks that are not consistent with what they usually do. According to Kyle Bennett, spokesman for Kennecott Utah Copper, employees who don’t want to take time off will be provided work but may be assigned to jobs outside their usual roles. Someone who drives a truck might be asked to paint a building or do maintenance work.
The mine has been in production since 1906 and the economic repercussions of this disaster could be far reaching. According to the University of Utah, Bureau of Economic and Business Research Rio Tinto’s Utah operations contributed $1.2 billion to the state’s economy, including $270 million in salaries and benefits, $765 million in purchases with Utah firms and $140 million in state and local taxes in 2011. The company directly employed 2,801 people and 14,971 indirectly that year.
It is important to keep in mind that the best designed facilities can fail. This instance is a very strong example of that. “Although the Bingham Canyon Mine management took action to protect the mine workers, a landslide is likely to happen again and it will be interesting to see how long the company will continue operating the mine with that level of risk” says Mindy Otto, Assistant Manager of YDWP.
“Well, I guess we can now add landslides to the long list of hazards created by that mine,” said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “And I’m sure the dust [from the slide] will at least add another temporary pollution burden on our community.” Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment was one of several environmental groups that filed suit against Kennecott in late 2011 for violating the Clean Air Act for nearly five years.