Bonnie Gestring Northwest Circuit Rider for Earth Works, past Peace Corps Volunteer and Park Ranger, graciously set aside the time to visit our class, speak about her career development, environmental concerns, and discuss a recent ground-breaking paper co-authored with Lisa Sumi, “How mining companies are polluting our nation’s waters
When I was researching our planet’s available drinking water for this class, Bonnie’s paper came to my attention. I was stunned to discover that — for the FIRST TIME — the amount of water used in mining and the costs associated to clean water polluted from mining were finally assessed:
• an estimated 17 to 27 billion gallons of polluted water will be generated by forty existing mines each year, every year, in perpetuity.
• water treatment costs at these mines are estimated to be between $57-67 billion per year
• four new mines are currently proposed (in the United States) which are predicted to generate perpetual pollution, or at high risk for perpetual pollution – an estimated 16.7-16.9 billion gallons a year
These staggering numbers are only part of a more complex story. Rivers across the United States have been polluted by every industry imaginable. In Massachusetts General Electric continues to refuse to clean up the spectacular Housatonic River after dumping tons of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Entergy’s Indian Point Nuclear power generating station continues to contaminate the Hudson River with Tritium, Strontium-90, Cesium-137, Cobalt-60, and Nickel-63. Remarkably neither of these two rivers place within the top thirty of the most polluted rivers in the United States.
Corporations involved in mining declare bankruptcy when the situation calls for such action. Consider the 27,000 uninspected abandoned oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. One well owned by Taylor Energy has leaked between 300,000 and 1. 4 million gallons of oil in ten years and it still isn’t capped.
From their paper:
“Water is a scarce and precious asset, particularly in the western United States where the demand for freshwater is far out-pacing the supply. In order to access clean water, western states are proposing extraordinary investments, ranging from plans to spend $15 billion to transport water across the state of Nevada, to ideas for a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver to offset the loss of water from the Colorado River, which in turn is struggling to provide water to seven states.
In the midst of declining fresh water supplies, an increasing number of hard rock mining companies are generating water pollution that will last for hundreds or thousands of years and new projects are on the horizon. Perpetual management of mines is a rapidly escalating national dilemma.
Our research shows, for the first time, the staggering amount of our nation’s water supplies that are perpetually polluted by mining.
A lengthy review of government documents reveals that an estimated 17 to 27 billion gallons of polluted water will be generated by forty mines each year, every year, in perpetuity. This is equivalent to the amount of water in 2 trillion water bottles – enough to stretch from the earth to the moon and back 54 times.
Perpetual pollution from metal mines has contaminated drinking water aquifers, created long-standing public health risks, and destroyed fish and wildlife and their habitat. The primary cause of this lasting pollution – acid mine drainage – is well understood. Yet, no hard rock open pit mines exist today that can demonstrate that acid mine drainage can be stopped once it occurs on a large scale.” — Polluting the Future By: Bonnie Gestring, Lisa Sumi
Published: May 1, 2013