The first big dollars are starting to flow out of a $460 million trust fund established to pay for cleanup of mining pollution in Idaho's Silver Valley.
About $8.5 million will be spent this year from the Asarco trust, which was created as part of the company's 2009 bankruptcy settlement to pay for environmental liabilities.
This year's work targets historic mine operations that leach heavy metals into the Coeur d'Alene River system, said Dan Meyer, the trust's senior project manager.
Beginning in the late 1800s, Burke and Nine Mile canyons were home to dozens of silver/lead mines and ore processing operations. Industrialists built fortunes from the minerals pulled out of the narrow mountain canyons, but historic photographs also show the leftover waste rock being pumped directly into creeks that flow into the Coeur d'Alene River.
Not only the creeks, but also the flood plains are choked with mine tailings. As water filters through those rocks, it picks up lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic and other metals. Both canyons are large contributors to the river's overall metals load.
Water flowing out of Nine Mile Canyon, for instance, has about 20 times as much lead and zinc as the state's water quality standard, said Bill Adams, a project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.