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Case Summary: Hecla Mining Company Settlement for the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site
On June 13, 2011, a settlement agreement to resolve Hecla Mining Company's liabilities at the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site in northern Idaho was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. The agreement settles the government's claims relating to liabilities under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund).
Under the settlement, Hecla will pay $263.4 million plus interest to the United States, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and the state of Idaho to resolve claims stemming from releases of wastes from its mining operations. The agreement will protect people's health, particularly young children, by ensuring the cleanup of areas heavily contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other contaminants.
Established in 1891, Hecla Mining Company is the oldest U.S.-based precious metals mining company in North America with its U.S. operations headquartered in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The company has two operating mines and exploration properties in four silver mining districts in the U.S. and Mexico.
The Bunker Hill Site is located in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin ("Basin") in northern Idaho and was listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. The site includes areas contaminated with mine waste within the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River corridor and tributaries, adjacent floodplains, downstream water bodies, fill areas, and the 21- square mile Bunker Hill "Box." The Site covers approximately 166 river miles and floodplain as well as those areas where mine wastes were relocated.
Mining activities began in the Basin over 100 years ago. The Basin was one of the leading silver, lead and zinc-producing areas in the world. The Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex, located in Kellogg, Idaho, was the largest mineral processing facility in the Basin and included milling and smelting operations. Most of the mining and milling operations no longer operate and the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex was demolished. Hecla (and its predecessors) owned and operated mine and mill sites throughout the Basin and disposed of mine and mill wastes containing hazardous heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and zinc, onto the lands and waterways of the Basin since the 1880s.
Until 1968, most mine waste tailings were discharged directly into the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River or its tributaries; an estimated 62 million tons of tailings were discharged to streams. These tailings contained approximately 880,000 tons of lead and 720,000 tons of zinc. The area of contamination includes some 166 river miles along the South Fork and Coeur d'Alene River, Lake Coeur d'Alene and a portion of the Spokane River. The widespread contamination poses significant risks to human health and the environment. For example, a large percentage of the soil in the residential and commercial areas in the Upper Basin and Box contains lead at levels in excess of 1000 ppm, and nearly 85% of the floodplains in the lower Basin contain lead in soil at levels that is toxic to waterfowl.
More information on the Coeur d'Alene Basin and the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site is available from Region 10's website.
The settlement resolves a cost recovery and natural resource damage action related to the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site that was initiated by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in 1991 and joined by the United States in 1996.
The United States, Tribe and state of Idaho will recover approximately $263.4 million pursuant to the settlement. Of this amount, approximately
- $180 million will fund response actions throughout the site,
- $17 million will fund response actions within Operable Unit 1 (the "Populated Areas of the Bunker Hill Box"), and
- $65.85 million will be paid to the federal, tribal and state natural resource trustees
The settlement also requires Hecla to provide access to and implement proprietary controls on property they own or control within the site. The settlement includes a protocol that will govern the coordination of EPA's cleanup efforts in the Upper Basin with Hecla's mining activities in an effort to minimize potential conflicts between cleanup and mining activities.
The Hecla Mining Company settlement, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, was subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
For more information, contact:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (MC2272A)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460