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. Steve

    I've had that problem with my jeans before, but it's usually after I had Mexican take-out.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas H.


      September 1, 2010 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sharp

    What happened to the mining company that created this mess? I guess this is a case of privatize the profits & socialize the consequences. In this case to the tune of a million a year with no end in sight.

    August 31, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesus Christ

      They should dump a couple hundred tons of baking soda in that old mine. That should take care of it.

      August 31, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark Baird

      This is what is called a negative externality, something Republicans and Libertarians fail to understand. It basically cause the economy to overproduce which creates and inefficient market.

      August 31, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      The company was forced to pay $211 million. It'll cost $200 million to keep this site from leaking for the next 30 years.

      August 31, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Reeferee

    What else is a lone, isolated mountain in California supposed to do besides drop acid?

    August 31, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • sfsocla


      August 31, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Brown

      Best post EVER!! LMAO 🙂

      September 1, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jimh77

    Bottle this stuff and sell it!! There are many mfg'g uses for concentrated H2SO4. They can make over 1 million dollars back and save the tax payers $$. What is wrong with them?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ulio

    Potent acid in Kalifornia? Who would have guessed?

    August 31, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Johnny

    Just dump truckloads of baking soda on it. Basic chemistry......

    August 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • stan t

      did you bother to read the article? they are already spending a million bucks a year doing just that

      August 31, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      Read the article again. It said they are already dumping lime on the site to neutralize the acid. They were talking about calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH)2], not the citrus fruit.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Which article are you guys reading, because it's not in the one I read...

      September 1, 2010 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • John

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

      I mean, it has it's own line all by itself in the story. Second-to-last paragraph.

      Lime is primarily calcium carbonate. Calcium is fundamentally an alkaline, a soluble base. Most medical antacids use calcium carbonate, like Rolaids and Tums. Baking soda is also a base, but lime is a more heavy-duty neutralizer of acid.

      September 1, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    That's it? Who edits this crap? Finish the story!

    August 31, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      What are you waiting for...a "happily ever after" ending? Don't hold your breath.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. Uncle Bob

    Dont freet Barny Obama will come to the rescue with his check book as soon as he gets back from vacation

    August 31, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • uncle bub

      you spelled fret rong moran

      September 1, 2010 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rob

    Baking soda will not solve the problem. Nobody here knows acid base chemistry apparently. It cannot be bottled, as it is more than likely contained.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie in Austin

      There's nothing in the article that says it can't be bottled. Most likely the value of the acid as a commodity is less than the cost of dealing with it in the present fashion.

      Industrial grade sulfuric acid is 98% pure. What's coming out of that mine is likely far less pure ...

      August 31, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. skydy

    are you prfessor klump or reggie love

    August 31, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. skydy


    August 31, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LouAz

    "Former Mine" ? What the hell kind of double talk is that ? Is that like a former waterfall, or former continent, or former steel mill or former bridge ? What about a former politican ? Everyone knows what that is – NO SUCH THING !

    August 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      kinda like a former comment

      September 1, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      A mine that has yielded all of the mineral or resource for which it was originally dug is a "former mine." Or maybe you would prefer "hole in the ground."

      September 1, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. Hammer

    Send Barry the carpetbagger up there. He has enough hot air that he should be able to blow the acid away

    August 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Paris


    August 31, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Conqui

      Because THIS article is about something else. Do a Google about Hanford, you will find plenty.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
    • rowan

      because the government doesnt want it told.theyll let it be known after there are 4 eyed frogs and fish with extra tails.not to mention birth defects in children.then blame it on someone else.just as the sea creatures in the gulf are safe to eat.fossil fuels ,nuclear fuelare NOT safe.both contaminate the earth for yrs to come. it makes me wonder if greed has overridden our survival mode. because the people that do these things dont seem to have a thought about their childrenand grandchildren.mney doesnt buy clean air soil or water.

      September 1, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      And stop SHOUTING AT US!

      September 1, 2010 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Calvin Hobbes

    If it's so concentrated, can't it be put into containers and shipped for industrial applications? It's basically free right? Companies don't have to "produce it" if they could just "tap it".

    September 1, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      Maybe they could fill old, used automobile batteries with the stuff and then drop palettes of them on enemy positions. It's a Win-Win-Win situation: we have a relatively cheap weapon, get rid of the toxic waste from the mine and dispose of a lot of old car batteries it would otherwise cost a lot of money to recycle.

      September 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
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