Cleanup at the Red Devil mine site is getting special attention from the state’s administration. Attorney General, Mike Geraghty, under the direction of the Governor is requesting that the old mercury mine site be put on the National Priorities List.
The mine is located on a small tributary of the middle Kuskokwim near the village of Red Devil.
In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Geraghty wrote that the BLM “has been unwilling to consider State comments and recommendations.” He further wrote that the BLM has not fulfilled its responsibility to properly assess and mitigate impacts from the mine site.
Geraghty states that putting the Red Devil Mine on the national priorities list will provide consistent funding and will ensure that the State’s concerns are factored into cleanup efforts.
Jennifer Roberts, Federal Facilities Program Manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, says the state’s concerns go back nearly 10 years.
“BLM has had some mixed cleanup through time. [They have] never really done a complete investigation,” Roberts says.
In 2006, the State asked for a two-party agreement so they could be more involved in the process which they found to be unsatisfactory, but BLM denied it, according to Roberts. Since that time, she says politics has gotten in the way.
“Apparently, there is some internal issues between BLM Department of Interior and the EPA at the headquarters level that for lack of better terminology, they seem to have some policy differences,” said Roberts.
And those differences, she says, have delayed the clean-up project.
She says the BLM did a partial removal of contaminated soil and built a waste disposal area. But the state did not agree with how it was done and where it was placed. She says there is still mercury in the sub-surface soil.
“What we’re concerned about is that they didn’t go far enough,” Roberts said. “And we have no idea really how those will move through and where those might end up. Our concern always is if it would get into the Red Devil Creek or into the Kuskokwim River.”
Fish in the creek are contaminated. Those findings came out this Spring when BLM started meeting with villages along the river to discuss their sampling projects which found that mercury and arsenic are being released into the creek.
BLM has found contamination in the Red Devil Creek and sediment in the Kuskokwim River, near the mouth of the creek. The State has issued a warning to residents not to collect subsistence foods near the mine. This warning followed a more general one for pregnant women and young children who are cautioned against eating a lot of large-sized pike and lush fish, predators that can accumulate mercury over many years.
The Kuskokwim watershed is within a highly mineralized area known as the Mercury Belt and has naturally occurring mercury and arsenic.