- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Gov. Kenny Guinn, under pressure from a ranking Nevada senator and the Environmental Protection Agency, says he might rethink his opposition to a federal Superfund cleanup declaration for a huge abandoned mine contaminated with toxic waste and uranium.

Mr. Guinn, other state officials and local politicians have contended that the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is making progress at the former Anaconda copper mine bordering Yerington, an agricultural town in northern Nevada.

They also have argued that one-time Anaconda parent Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) is cooperating. Officials also fear the stigma of the area’s being labeled a Superfund site, a designation that would turn over responsibility and enforcement authority to the federal government.

Federal authorities, however, said the recent discovery of unusually high levels of radiation in soil samples at the mine is a sign that federal help is needed.

“We realize the cleanup is going to be much more significant than any of us anticipated,” said Bob Abbey, Nevada director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Mr. Guinn’s spokesman, Greg Bortolin, told the Associated Press last week that the Republican governor “is open-minded and is receptive to the possibility of a Superfund listing as a result of the information that continues to come to light.”

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said state regulators lack the muscle to force ARCO to clean up the hundreds of acres of toxic waste, some of it radioactive.

“This is big business overwhelming a little state, and the state doesn’t have the power to fight them,” said Mr. Reid, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

“This is a cesspool full of very, very toxic substances, and [ARCO] should write a check to clean it up. The only way they will do that is if it is declared a Superfund site,” Mr. Reid said.

Dan Ferriter, ARCO’s environmental manager in charge of the site, took exception to Mr. Reid’s criticism, saying the cleanup already is subject to “fairly extreme” regulatory oversight.

“We are doing much, much more than would be required for a mine closure by the state of Nevada, and we are doing more than we would at most Superfund sites,” Mr. Ferriter said Friday.

Early groundwater tests at the 3,600-acre site showed uranium at up to 200 times the U.S. drinking-water standard, apparently the result of decades of chemical processing of copper ore in acid-leaching ponds. Uranium also was present in the copper ore.

One new soil sample shows alpha radiation levels at nearly 200 times more than natural background levels, and four other samples are in the range of 25 to 90 times normal, the BLM reported last month. More tests are pending.

Anaconda Copper Co. mined the site from 1953 to 1978.

ARCO is responsible for the cleanup because it once owned Anaconda and a more recent owner of the site has gone bankrupt. ARCO has spent about $50,000 since January testing wells and providing bottled water to about 40 households near the mine, Mr. Ferriter said.

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