Department of Ecology News Release - October 23, 2012

12-351

Ecology doing emergency safety work at old Van Stone Mine

SPOKANE--The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is beginning emergency work this week (Oct. 22-26, 2012) to prevent possible breaching of the tailings pile at the upper portion of the Van Stone Mine site in Stevens County. The mine site is 24 miles northeast of Colville off Van Stone Road.

Rain this spring and summer made the tailings pile vulnerable to breaching because water accumulated on the pile and washed tailings into a tributary of Onion Creek and surrounding area. While the water has cleared up since that time, the tailings pile remains unstable.

That instability makes the tailings piles an unsafe place for recreation.  Ecology is asking people to stay away from the upper and lower tailings piles. The following recommendations are for your safety:

Do not go on or near the tailings piles or the mill site. Avoid hiking, bicycling, ATV use, horseback riding, or other recreational activities in this area. Take measures to keep the dust minimized inside your home and outside on your property if you live near the site. 

Past sampling showed that the soil at the mine contains arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc in amounts that require cleanup. Groundwater also is contaminated with arsenic, cadmium and lead.

Because of the urgent need to begin work, there is no formal public comment period.  However, the fact sheet and emergency work plan are available at the Onion Creek General Store on Onion Creek Road, the Onion Creek School District office on Lotze Creek Road, Ecology’s Spokane office at 4601 N. Monroe St., and on Ecology’s Van Stone Mine website.

The goal of the work is to reduce or eliminate future releases from the upper tailings pile due to erosion.  In 1961, the dam holding the tailings in place failed and flooded a tributary of Onion Creek.  The tailings traveled downstream as far as the Onion Creek School damaging property and structures.

A drainage-way built through the pile will control water flow. The ditch that lies between the two parts of the tailings pile will be regraded and armored with stone to reduce the volume of water flowing through the area and re-establish the intended drainage pattern. 

As a result of ownership, operations, and contribution of contaminants at the site, several companies are responsible for long-term cleanup. They include American Smelting and Refining Co. (Asarco), Callahan Mining Corp., Sundown Holdings, Ltd., Equinox Resources Inc., and Vaagen Brothers as a current property owner of the upper tailings pile.

Close to 3 million tons of ore was produced by Asarco and Equinox. Fine-grained material called tailings were produced during ore processing and metal extraction.

Asarco filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Ecology filed a claim against the company for cleanup of environmental damages in Washington state and received $3.5 million in a settlement. That money will go toward this emergency work and the studies that will guide the permanent cleanup of the Van Stone Mine site.

A “remedial investigation” is being conducted to provide information about the extent of contamination, and a “feasibility study” is also under way and will evaluate cleanup options.

Questions may be directed to Brendan Dowling, site manager, Washington Department of Ecology Toxics Cleanup Program, 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205; or by phone, 509-329-3611; or e-mail, Brendan.dowling@ecy.wa.gov.

###

Media Contact: Jani Gilbert, Communications, 509-329-3495; cell, 509-990-9177; e-mail jani.gilbert@ecy.wa.gov.

For more information

Van Stone Mine Website  (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=461)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)