Judge: Mining company liable for pollution at former uranium mine
One of the world's biggest mining companies is partly responsible for cleaning up massive pollution at a former uranium mine on the Spokane...
Seattle Times environment reporter
One of the world's biggest mining companies is partly responsible for cleaning up massive pollution at a former uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation, a federal judge has ruled.
The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush of Spokane was a victory for the federal government and tribal officials, who have been trying to ensure that Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp. help pay for a cleanup that could cost $152 million.
Federal lawyers had argued that Newmont was liable for cleanup costs under the federal Superfund law, because it had control over part of the mining operations through a subsidiary, Dawn Mining Co.
A Newmont official did not respond to requests for comment. The company has claimed in court documents that while it was a majority owner of Dawn, it didn't make day-to-day decisions about how the mine operated.
The judge still must decide how much of the cleanup costs Newmont is responsible for. Dawn Mining and the U.S. government have already been named as partly responsible for the pollution.
The ruling, which could be appealed, might help jump-start cleanup of the defunct mine, which has leaked radioactive and toxic chemicals into nearby streams, soil, plants and animals.
Over 27 years, starting in 1954, miners blasted away 38 million tons of rock and uranium ore from a mountain at the center of the Spokane Tribes' remote reservation, northwest of Spokane.
Today, two cavernous craters, holding toxic ponds, sit in the middle of the mine site. A water-treatment plant filters water that leaks from the ponds to keep pollution from reaching nearby streams.
But over the years, enough contaminants, including uranium, have leached into plants and nearby creeks that one federal study estimated a person eating plants and animals from the area and using the water for sweat lodges could have a 1 in 5 chance of getting cancer.
Tribal attorney Shannon Work said that with the court's ruling, the tribe hopes that those responsible "will now step up and begin the much-needed cleanup."
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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