Humboldt County’s Copper Bluff Mine Proposed for Superfund Program’s National Priorities List

By on September 13, 2018
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Historically used for mining copper, zinc, silver and gold, the Copper Bluff Mine, in Humboldt County, is being proposed for addition to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL). The announcement of the possible addition of Copper Bluff Mine to the NPL was made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday by EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The mine is one of six hazardous waste sites recently proposed for the list.

“In adding these sites to the NPL, EPA is carrying out one of our core responsibilities to the American people,” said Wheeler. “Cleaning up sites that pose risks to public health and the environment is a critical part of our mission and it provides significant health and economic benefits to communities across the country.”

Located within the Hoopa Valley Reservation, adjacent to California State Highway 96, the mine was operated by private companies from about 1928 to 1964. Acid mine drainage has been flowing into the Trinity River since the mine closed, affecting the Trinity River.

“Though the Copper Bluff Mine closed decades ago, it is still affecting the Trinity River, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the tribal fishery,” said Mike Stoker, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional administrator. “Proposing the site for inclusion on the National Priorities List is an important step towards cleaning up this toxic legacy.”

The EPA initiates Superfund involvement at sites when the agency finds contamination during its own investigations or when states, tribes, or communities ask for the agency’s help. Under the Trump Administration, the Superfund program has reemerged as a priority to fulfill and strengthen EPA’s core mission of protecting human health and the environment.

The NPL includes the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites and only sites on the NPL are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup. The NPL serves as the basis for prioritizing EPA Superfund cleanup funding and enforcement actions.

The Superfund program has been providing important health benefits to communities across the country for more than 35 years. Superfund cleanups also strengthen local communities and serves as an economic driver. Data collected through 2017 shows that at 487 Superfund rehabilitated sites, approximately 6,600 businesses generated $43.6 billion in sales and employed 156,000 people who earned a combined income of $11.2 billion.

The Cooper Bluff Mine is the only site in California being proposed for cleanup list. According to EPA documents, “…  mine tunnels that were historically dug into the hillside to allow transport of materials now allow mine waste, or acid mine drainage, to flow more rapidly out of the mine and into the Trinity River.”

According to the Eureka Times-Standard, Hoopa Valley Tribe Environmental Protection Agency Director Ken Norton praised the possible inclusion of Cooper Bluff Mine on the NPL saying, “We have been waiting 35 to 40 years for this action to happen.” The newspaper indicated that the tribe began assessing the mining site in 1981.