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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EPA Targets Nevada Gold Mines

RENO (CN) - Two gold mines in northeastern Nevada face millions of dollars in state and federal fines for dumping hazardous wastes.

The United States and Nevada on Thursday sued Barrick Goldstrike Mines and Newmont USA, both in the Humboldt River watershed.

Barrick's Goldstrike Mines near Elko is the largest gold mining operation in North American. Barrick is the world's largest gold mining company.

Goldstrike produced more than 900,000 ounces of gold in 2014 and is expected to produce at least 1 million ounces of gold this year and each of the next two years, according to the company website.

At the Monday morning price of $1,217.94 per ounce, 1 million ounces would sell for $1.2 billion.

Newmont, one of the world's largest gold mining companies, has operations on five continents. All of its North American operations are in Nevada, where the company controls 2.8 million acres.

Newmont operates the Gold Quarry Facility, about 6 miles north of Carlin in Eureka County. There, it dumps illegal levels of lead and mercury into its 800-acre tailings impoundment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Barrick violates the Solid Waste Disposal Act and Nevada's Disposal of Hazardous Waste laws by dumping more than 0.2 milligrams per liter of mercury into its tailings impoundment, according to the complaint.

Mercury is used to separate gold from other minerals. The leaching process creates a bleed stream containing at least 0.2 milligrams per liter of mercury at Newmont, and at least 5 milligrams per liter of lead, according to the EPA.

The EPA says the mines did not have permits to store the hazardous wastes or dispose of them. The mines did not determine whether the mercury bleed streams are hazardous, and treated and disposed of hazardous waste without permits, according to the complaint.

The EPA seeks fines of $32,500 per day from March 15, 2004, through Jan. 12, 2009, and $37,500 per day since Jan. 12, 2009, for each violation at each mining operation.

(CLARIFICATION: On March 6, four days after this article appeared in Courthouse News, EPA spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan said that consent decrees show that EPA settled with Barrick for $196,000 and with Newmont for $395,000.

(Perez said that according to the consent decrees, both companies dumped hazardous wastes "for a certain period of time," and have "ceased the practice." She added that mercury occurs naturally in ore mined in the Carlin Trend.

(The mining companies could have faced millions of dollars in fines had all the fines in the complaints been demanded, but the EPA settled with both companies for a total of $591,000.

(Courthouse News' March 2 story was based upon the lawsuits from the United States and Nevada. Courthouse News at the time was not in possession of the consent decrees, which Perez-Sullivan said were filed concurrently with the complaints.)

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