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Community right-to-know threatened by EPA proposal to decrease reporting


Multinational companies that mine metals–such as gold, silver and copper–produce more toxic waste than any other industry in the country, according to the EPA's annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) released yesterday.


According to theTRI,1.1 billion pounds of toxics were released by the metal mining industry, also known as hardrock mining, in 2004–25% of all toxics released by U.S. industry overall. This includes 105 million pounds of arsenic, 369 million pounds of lead and 4 million pounds of mercury.


“For as long as the hardrock mining industry has reported its toxic output, it's been the worst polluter in the country,” said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director for EARTHWORKS.


Toxic releases from mine sites can have serious impacts on water quality. Mine waste dumps, including those containing the toxics reported by the mining industry, too often leach heavy metals and metalloids, like arsenic and lead, into ground and surface water. As a result, sections of 40% of watersheds in the western U.S. are contaminated by mine waste, according to EPA.


Despite these numbers, the EPA is considering changing the TRI reporting requirements to allow industry to report its releases every other year, rather than every year as now required.  “EPA's proposal would leave communities in the dark about year-to-year variations in toxic releases,” said Lauren Pagel. “If enacted, this change would also tempt facilities to schedule their activities that result in significant amounts of releases during those years when they would not have to report,” she continued.


Despite the large amounts of toxic releases reported by metal mining, these numbers do not represent the full amount of toxic pollution released by the industry. As a result of an industry lawsuit, and a half-hearted defense by EPA, in 2003 the mining industry succeeded in excluding most of its toxic releases contained within one category of mine waste. Based upon historical data, if those excluded toxics were included in the mining industry's releases, metal mining's total reported release would double to approximately 2 billion pounds.