It's past time to clean up Formosa

Cleaning up the pollution at the abandoned Formosa Mine near Riddle must be done, despite the high cost.

We cannot let the toxic waste further contaminate groundwater and the streams near the mine. Not only is it killing native fish, but the drinking water for the city of Riddle could eventually be at risk.

While we hear a lot about clean water concerns in Douglas County, the severity of the environmental damage at the Formosa mine rarely makes it into everyday conversations. Yet, the mine was declared a Superfund site in 2007 — and the words "Superfund site" generally get people's attention.

Here are others that might: The ground is so polluted that wild blackberries won't even grow there. Now that's poisoned land.

The former copper and zinc mine has come into focus again because the Environmental Protection Agency has issued an analysis of cleanup alternatives and their costs.

Such cleanup, however, would only address the piles of mine waste dug deep into the mountainside of Silver Butte. The EPA has not yet determined how to solve the problem of acid runoff — the millions of gallons of water contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, copper and zinc that is polluting Middle Creek, where all aquatic life has been killed over a 13-mile stretch. Middle Creek runs into Cow Creek, the source of Riddle's water, before flowing into the Umpqua River.

Mining on Silver Butte was a common practice, stretching back nearly 80 years. Contamination issues arose when the now-defunct Canadian-based Formosa Exploration Inc. had operated the mine for three years and was found in violation of its copper-mining permit in 1993.

The company abandoned the mine and the EPA has had difficulty tracking down its former officials to aid in the cleanup. It's a travesty that the company polluted the beautiful mountainside and has so far escaped any responsibility for the cost of cleanup.

The Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality tried various methods to stem the flow of pollution before the EPA named the site to its Superfund list. Removing all sources of pollution could cost as much as $50 million. The EPA has a list of preliminary measures ranging from $5.6 million to $13.3 million.

The agency is expected to announce how it will deal with the toxic waste piles by the end of the year and then request comments from the public.

In comparison with the cleanup of other Superfund sites, the cost is minimal. Cleaning up the Portland Harbor, a Superfund site since 2000, is estimated at $169 million to $1.7 billion, for example.

The fact that the Superfund has no funds complicates matters, but the EPA's recommendation must be for a thorough and reliable solution to end pollution from the mine waste. An answer to eliminating the acid runoff must be found as well.

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