EPA Considers Mine in Hoopa for Superfund Cleanup

Sep 13, 2018

High concentrations of selenium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and high levels of acidity have been found in the water flowing from the Copper Bluff Mine and into the Trinity River.
Credit Natalya Estrada

Yellow tinted water flows out of a mine shaft located below a small stretch of Highway 96. It’s part of the discharge from the now defunct Copper Bluff Mine, which is on tribal land. Ken Norton, Hoopa Valley Tribal member and director for the Tribal Environmental Protection Agency, says that although the mine was shut down in 1964, chemicals are still flowing directly into the Trinity River.

“The discharge that comes out of the mine entrance has been evaluated for concentrations of selenium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and high levels of acidity," Norton says. 

The mine is one of six proposed projects by the EPA, under its new acting administrator Andrew Wheeler. According to a press release from the EPA, the now defunct Copper Bluff Mine is considered a hazardous waste site. It’s one of six projects being considered and right now, it’s the only one in California up for possible designation as an EPA superfund site.

The water from the Copper Bluff Mine carries heavy metal chemicals and ultimately stains the mountainside as it flows into the Trinity River.
Credit Natalya Estrada

In a statement, Wheeler says adding sites to the list is carrying out one of the EPA's core responsibilities to the American People. 

"Cleaning up sites that pose risks to public health and the environment is a critical part of our mission and it provides significant health and economic benefits to communities across the country," Wheeler states. 

Norton has high hopes that the mine will be chosen because it’s a project he estimates will only cost between $500,000 to one million dollars; something the Trump Administration could consider pocket change compared to other billion dollar projects.

“This is a project that can be remediated without extensive amounts of resources. Money," Norton says. "You could say we treated this many mine sites in Indian Country; Hoopa is one of them. Here’s our success story. And we would be happy with that.”

The EPA’s National Priorities List includes what are considered the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list also serves as the basis for prioritizing EPA superfund clean-up funding and enforcement actions. The mine was historically used to collect copper, zinc, silver and gold and was operated by private companies starting in 1928 before ultimately being shut down in 1964. 

According to Norton, the Trinity River is the lifeblood of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and is culturally significant in Hoopa Tribal ceremonies and also important for fishermen catching salmon, lamprey and sturgeon within the region.