[PHOTOS] Toxic waste spills: 4 potential sites
Earlier this month, the EPA’s cleanup efforts at the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado resulted in the accidental spillage of over three million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River. The spill, which affected waters in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, raised levels of arsenic, lead and other toxins in the river while turning the normally vibrant blue water into a mustard-hued color. According to Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, it was an accident waiting to happen.
“There are a lot of similar disasters waiting to happen, at thousands of abandoned mine sites around the U.S.,” Krill told National Geographic.
In Colorado alone there are an estimated 4,650 abandoned mine sites currently leaking toxic waste. With more than 500,000 abandoned mines in the U.S., the cleanup cost is estimated to be between $20 billion and $54 billion—which doesn’t count coal mines.
The following abandoned mines are considered extremely dangerous and pose imminent environmental risk.
Iron Mountain, California
Located east of Redding, California, the Iron Mountain site is considered by many to be one of the most polluted places on Earth.
The site, which is known to contain water so acidic it could dissolve fabrics and burn skin, has been a Superfund site since 1983 with cleanup efforts continuing at a price of $5 million per year.
Navajo Uranium Mines
During 1944 to 1986, approximately four million tons of uranium ore was extracted from the lands of the Navajo Nation, an area that extends 27,000 square miles and encompasses Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
The EPA estimates there are over 500 abandoned uranium mines in the area that have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks.
“Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water,” writes the EPA.
Oklahoma’s Tar Creek
Once home to the largest lead and zinc mines in the world, the Tar Creek site in Picher, Oklahoma is now considered by the EPA to be “one of the most toxic areas” in the country.
In 1983 it was designated as a Superfund site and today more than $150 million has been spent to clean up the site.
Berkeley Pit, Montana
Located in Butte, Montana, the Berkeley Pit is one of the largest Superfund sites in the world.
The former open pit copper mine, which closed in 1982, is now a toxic lake comprised of heavy metal poisons such as arsenic, lead and zinc.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.