August 31st, 2010
04:04 PM ET

Concrete-eating acid at former California mine


The Iron Mountain Mine acid draining treatment facility, the heart of the EPA effort to clean the site.

A few days ago, environmental scientists and representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency trudged through steaming toxic sludge at what the federal agency considers one of the worst Superfund sites in California. Iron Mountain, a former mine that is dripping with acid capable of eating away even specially resistant concrete, is outside Redding.  

The mine shut down in the 1960s and has been closed to the public since.  

But runoff from the site potentially threatens salmon in the Sacramento River, which is why the EPA closely watches a treatment facility that has kept the river clean and has kept pollution mostly at the mine, said Rick Sugarek, an EPA point person for a cleanup effort that has spanned more than 20 years.  

About 2 percent of the original pollution continues to discharge from the mine, said Sugarek. And that's unlikely to change because there's simply no technology to get rid of it. The San Francisco Chronicle explains why that is, and how Iron Mountain became a hazard.   

"This is a common problem at hard rock and coal mines - iron sulfide turns into sulfuric acid - but at Iron Mountain, it's 500 times more concentrated. It's more like battery acid coming out of the mountain," he told CNN.  

The EPA spends $1 million a year on lime alone to help neutralize the acid, he said.  

There are several dozen workers and contractors who do maintainence for the EPA on the plant. Even with stringent safety measures in place, workers have reported going home and their jeans falling apart, said Sugarek.

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Filed under: California • Environment
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Couptaker

    It will cost more to clean up than they made from that mess.

    September 1, 2010 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    Yes please blame capitialism. Socialism and Communism never led to any environmental problems.

    So rather than having the government as a regulator checking and balancing the private sector you would prefer to have the government acting as both the regulator and the regulated? Seriously? A system with no recourse? The problem isn't a result of how the political or economic system is organized. The problem is about identifying, understanding, and properly addressing externalities that impact outside of the activity/process that is occuring.

    September 1, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      How about it's not an either-or proposition? Let business do what business does, but don't trust them to have the best interests of the rest of us at heart ahead of raw profit, and have a strong government to keep an eye on them.

      September 1, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. YKnott

    Thousands of companies in this country pay millions of dollars a year to purchase sulphuric acid in many forms. Why don't they just find a way to collect this runoff and sell it? The site would make a profit instead of costing the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Oh, but then some government beaurocrat would lose his job... nevermind.

    September 1, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • YKnott

      Sorry JimH77, didn't see your previous post... it got lost in all the typical online clutter

      September 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steven

    This is a prime example of the racism problem in America.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. IMHO

    For anyone really interested in the details of the Iron Mountain Mine, near Redding, CA, there's a pretty good write-up at: It gives a lot more information than the article above and eliminates much of the need for useless speculation as to cause and effect, what is being done and by whom, etc.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
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