Asarco: Cleanup won't fix Silver Valley pollution

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SPOKANE — The largest financial contributor to the cleanup of Idaho's Silver Valley says the federal government's plan for the work is incomplete and will not end a century of dangerous heavy metals pollution in the mining district.

Asarco LLC, in a letter this week to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contends that contaminated rail lines once operated by Union Pacific Railroad will continue to pollute the Coeur d'Alene River Basin.

As a result, Asarco fears the $635 million cleanup of the Silver Valley, 60 miles east of Spokane, will be a waste of time and money.

"Clearly you have contamination left behind that is finding its way through the river and stream system into the environment and into the lake," said attorney Gregory Evans, who represents Asarco.

Asarco, which had large-scale mining operations in the area, reached a settlement with the EPA to provide $482 million to clean up the Silver Valley and has a major stake in ensuring the work is done properly, Evans said.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Donna Kush said the railroad's environmental work in the Silver Valley has been approved by the EPA.

"Asarco continues to make allegations that are completely false," Kush said. "Any new contamination is believed to be due to flooding redeposits from old mining activity."

Bill Adams, the EPA's manager for the cleanup, said the agency is confident that the old rail lines will not pollute the valley in the future.

Adams speculated that Asarco's letter to the EPA was prompted in part by the company's lawsuit against Union Pacific that seeks to get the railroad to pay some of its cleanup costs.