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The New Gold Rush is Mercury

There's a new rush on in the California gold country, but this time it's a rush for grants to clean up mercury from 150 years ago. While environmental groups scramble for a share of the money experts disagree on the necessity of a cleanup.

[i]The real gold rush moved mountains. Environmental groups propose to move molehills.[/i]

    RENO, NV, November 28, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- New Study Released

A recent article in USA Today has portrayed a pending crisis in mercury contamination based on a recently released paper by Dr. Michael Singer of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The six page study cost taxpayers nearly $280,000 and found floods cause erosion and redistribute gravel. Based on an analysis of aerial photographs, the study determined each major flood moves a fraction of the gold rush mercury. The research states it will take 10,000 years for the gold rush mercury to wash from the valleys. Environmental groups have seized on this report as evidence even more money needs to go into the study and cleanup of this mercury from the California gold rush days.

A Lot of Gravel was Washed from the Mountains

The real gold rush moved mountains. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated nearly 1.3 billion cubic yards of gravel were washed from California mountains between 1855 and 1910. That's the equivalent of 80 million dump trucks.

Environmental groups propose to move molehills. Grant requests submitted by environmental groups seek over $6 million in funding to process 160,000 cubic yards of gravel in Lake Combie, California. The mercury is valued at $8,000 per ounce, or about seven times the price of gold.

If taxpayers adopt the environmentalist approach it will cost $53 billion and take 40 thousand years to clean all the residual gold rush gravels. Or we could let nature take care of it for free in less time.

Mercury is Naturally Occurring

There is an abundance of mercury in parts of California in rocks called cinnabar. The California Coastal Range was the source for the majority of the mercury used in gold mining operations and still presents a significant source of mercury today. Scientists admit even if all the gravels, rivers and reservoirs were cleaned, there would still be mercury in the sediments.

Although mercury is naturally occurring, it can be harmful to people if consumed in sufficient quantities. Our fear of mercury poisoning is based on industrial dumping in Minamata Bay, Japan. In the 1950's an industrial plant dumped tons of mercury into the bay where it converted to a toxic form. This toxic form can cause neurological damage to humans.

In California the research estimates .001% of the gold rush mercury is released with each flood. The critical question is whether this amount of mercury poses a threat.

Do We Need to be worried about Mercury?

Researchers disagree on whether the gold rush mercury requires cleaning up. New research has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) to revise their consumption criteria for fish. The updated guidance recommends eating significantly higher amounts of fish. So is mercury, as the environmentalists claim, a problem?

"It depends," says Dr. Nicholas Ralston, the leading biological mercury researcher in the country, "In the past several years there has been tremendous progress in understanding the mercury issue. Mercury can be a problem if you are exposed to a big dose, but in the small doses encountered under these conditions there is very little risk. If all the residual mercury from the gold rush was dumped in the bay at one time we could see harm, but certainly not if it is delivered in small amounts per year."

Dr. Ralston's position is supported by California Water Board research on mercury. The California Water Board has studied this problem for over ten years and their research appears to conclude the majority of gold country rivers are under EPA established thresholds. The California Department of Health has no records of anyone, anywhere in California, suffering mercury poisoning from eating fish.

Environmental groups counter mercury ends up in the food chain. Recent California Water Board research doesn't prove this link across California. In the valley regions, where water temperatures are warmer some fish are exceeding the EPA thresholds causing advisories for consuming fish caught from lower elevations. In the higher elevation streams the fish are consistently below EPA advisory thresholds.

"It's a solution in search of a problem." said Craig Lindsay, president of the Western Mining Alliance. "There's a lot of money involved in mercury cleanup and environmental groups have their hand out, hoping they can receive millions to study a problem which hasn't resulted in a single case of harm, ever."

The Western Mining Alliance supports responsible mining and common sense solutions to environmental problems. Our members have been cleaning the legacy of historic mining for over fifty years.


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Craig Lindsay
Western Mining Alliance

Reno, Nevada
US
Voice: 916-813-0104
E-Mail: Email Us Here

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