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. Thomas H.

    How long before someone tries to weaponize it?

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

      google 1

      September 1, 2010 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Travis

    Hey.... they're shutting down Gitmo.... let's send the prisoners here instead! Good solution to 2 problems!

    September 1, 2010 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. ratso

    Notice how cleverly the article avoided mentioning that the source of the acid is a naturally occurring condition? There is a lot of naturally occurring acid rock throughout the west.

    September 1, 2010 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Jackel

      and most of it stays in place, not causing problems. Petroleum is naturaly occuring, it is only when burned that the carbon gets in the atmosphere

      September 1, 2010 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      "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,"

      September 1, 2010 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. The Ture Lord Osiris

    Perfect way to dispose of a body....where is that place again?

    September 1, 2010 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. Pat

    use it in products going to China....seems to be common practice for our imports

    September 1, 2010 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. borisjimbo

    Most hard rock mines leach out acids; in fact, so do most coal mines. Maybe that's why God buried it all under tons of dirt and other rock, to keep Adam and Eve from eating of that apple.

    September 1, 2010 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      If it was first under tons of dirt and rocks, why can it not go back to being under tons of dirt and rocks? Put the tons of dirt and rocks back. Simple solution, but a lot of work.

      September 1, 2010 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Because of things called Aquifers.

      September 1, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jackel

    How many rips in the Earth before before the human population plummets?

    September 1, 2010 at 2:57 am | Report abuse |
  8. T-Man

    ok so it may not be lab grade H2SO4, but it can be captured, shipped and refined to a purity useful for various industrial applications. Or they can set up a refining facility right there.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. Schwarze

    Are these products known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm?

    September 1, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      No. They're merely toxic.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. memo2

    That is the problem people will face in near apocalyptic future human pollution and overpopulated city's.

    September 1, 2010 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. memo2

    No ! this can't be happening we are the most smart people on this planet ?. Are we !.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  12. rowan

    this company will never have to pay for clean up.justas bp will never pay for the gulf. we the tax payers will pay for it. in the meantime it will sit there leaking poison.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      You know not whereof you speak.

      September 1, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  13. Objective Media

    hey, a story about a dangerous mine and more proof of the profit-mad energy companies...and in California...and weeks before an important election that Democrats might lose...I sure hope this wasn't known months before CNN and the AP chose to report, of course not.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      So you either don't have a job or work for the government, right?

      September 1, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  14. Complete Waste

    Another great example of American capitalism. The company makes the profit, the taxpayer is stuck with the mess.

    September 1, 2010 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. geo

    Strange CNN story – just a synopsis of the SF Cronicle story. I don't call that journalism.

    From a geological perspective, it is likely that the "mine" pollution was leaking out of the ground long before there was a mine. Not an excuse for ignoring the problem but it is important to recognize that there are naturally occuring acid rivers all over the western US. The responsible mining companing is probably long gone since mining started in the 1890's. Modern mining techniques don't create these kind of problems – in fact the best solution is to sell the property and mine the remaining Cu with a modern open pit.

    September 1, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      Or it could be a "tickler" flagged to be rerun periodically for the express purpose of ensuring it doesn't disappear entirely from the public consciousness (as I'm sure those responsible would like).

      September 1, 2010 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
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