An old mine on Prince of Wales Island has been added to the federal government's Superfund sites list, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.
The Salt Chuck mine is an inactive gold and copper mine located at the northern end of Kasaan Bay, near the home of the Kasaan Tribe of several hundred people. Heavy metals from mine tailings in upland areas and in the bay are polluting the bay and Lake Ellen Creek, which drains into the bay.
Tribal members harvest salmon and shellfish in the area. Residents could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
The listing makes the site eligible to receive federal funds for long-term cleanup.
"This Superfund listing will provide a healthier future for Kasaan Bay and for Kasaan Tribal members, local residents and everyone who eats salmon and shellfish from the bay," said Dan Opalski, EPA Region 10 Superfund Director.
The EPA's National Priorities List contains sites with the most serious uncontrolled hazardous waste identified for possible long-term cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as Superfund.
The listing allows the EPA to pursue costs of cleanup from responsible parties but also uses a trust to pay for cleanup.
The federal government owns the upland site, which is Tongass National Forest land. The state owns the intertidal zone, which is full of contaminated tailings.
Salt Chuck miners dumped much of their tailings, or ground-up waste rock, into the intertidal zone, where people now go clamming and crabbing.
The clams and mussels have been found to have unhealthy amounts of arsenic, vanadium and copper. In areas with especially high metal levels, there aren't many clams or mussels, according to a Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation database of contaminated sites.
The state has said it's not responsible for cleanup because it inherited the mess at statehood.
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service received $1.4 million from the stimulus package to clean up Salt Chuck, but that would pay for only part of the costs.
More than 1,600 sites around the country have been placed on the EPA's National Priority List. Alaska now has nine.
The Salt Chuck mine opened in 1906, when two deer hunters discovered a bluish-purple copper ore four miles from Thorne Bay. Over the years, it was mined for copper, gold, palladium and platinum. Major mining was finished by 1941.
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