Backyard Talk

Local Group Calls for Shutdown of Old Mission Repository

Kellogg, ID: Lead issues have long plagued entire communities as a result of mining, smelting or other production of lead products. One of the worst locations for lead contamination is in the Coeur d’Alene mining district (CDA), Idaho. The Bunker Hill mine was one of the richest lead producing mines in the US. There are hundreds of mines in Shoshone County, Idaho, most are inactive at this time but several that are still mining; this is one of the richest heavy metal mining areas in the world, and has produced billions in mining production.

Bunker Hill is also a Superfund Site, which is a site where toxic wastes have been dumped and the EPA has designated them to be cleaned up. According to the EPA, the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin contains “significant measurable risks currently exist to humans”. Because of over 100 years of mining impacting the  area, lead contamination in surface water “as much as 90 times exceeds” EPA standards. 300,000 citizens live within a 1,500 square mile area beginning at the Montana border and extending into Washington State, with over 166 miles of CDA River corridor, downstream water bodies, fill areas, adjacent floodplains and tributaries that are contaminated and “the most heavily impacted areas are devoid of aquatic life.”

As a result of the contamination, children in this area have blood lead levels above the national CDC standards.  “One of every four children tested outside the 21 sq. mile “box” is found to have an elevated blood levels and are now lead poisoned. Numerous children in the Bunker Hill site are also still being tested a routine began in about 1974 and are found with elevated lead levels.

EPA planned to address the huge area contaminated with lead by creating a repository. In 2008, the Cataldo Mission, a national historic landmark located in Old Mission State Park became a temporary dumping ground (repository) for tons of lead contaminated soil. The Silver Valley Community Resource Center (SVCRC), a local group, led protests against remediation citing that the repository sits on a flood plain that flood annually, no assurance that regular flooding will not contaminate ground water and wells, and no assurance that toxic run off from the flooding will not reach the N. Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River through seepage or flow continuing to contaminate area.

SVCRC continues to address the failure of the repository and hold EPA accountable for remediation actions. SVCRC wrote a letter to EPA, signed by thousands of citizens, local and national groups opposing the repository and a call to have a permanent clean-up plan. For approximately a year, SVCRC, Sierra Club and Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) have pursued requests from EPA and IDEQ staff to provide the scientific data supporting their allegation, “that the water is cleaner after it goes through the (Mission) repository”. To date the agencies have not been able to provide the data to back up this statement.

Recently it was learned from FOIA materials sent by the Dept. of Transportation that the repository is nestled between the Yellowstone petroleum gas line and a natural gas line that has been in place in the area for the past 50 years. Affected citizens are asking the question as to why the pipelines were never made public at any time while the Mission Repository was proposed and developed. The Yellowstone pipeline and the natural gas lines have been in the Mission Repository for five decades. They are accidents waiting to happen with all the heavy equipment that is in operation at the site throughout the year and all the traffic and population that travels Interstate 90 a stone throw from Exit 39 where the 20 acre repository is located.

“Drop in gas pressure, lack of response by EPA to affected community members, CD’A tribal sacred grounds being desecrated, a major wetland being destroyed, National Historic Preservation laws being broken, millions of tons of pollution continuing to be deposited downstream to the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, this is not emotional attachment to the Old Mission, this is about EPA’s destruction to the environment and human health risks. EPA needs to move to have this repository shut down, immediately”, said Shane Stancik, lifelong Silver Valley resident, lead poisoned child and SVCRC board member.

SVCRC is continuing its grassroots work to shut down the repository and assist EPA in refocusing its cleanup priorities to protect the environment and human health specific to blood lead testing and intervention.

“Furthermore, the use of child blood lead levels used as a remedial action objective cannot capture the broader dimensions of health and well-being that should be taken into account in remediation efforts. To this end, it should be argued that remediation efforts should not only focus on harm reduction but also contribute to efforts to ameliorate environmental and social injustices. Securing a health future for the residents of the contaminated mine sites, such as Kellogg, requires more than just reducing child blood lead levels; it requires attention to the complex set of factors underlying the pattern of systematic disadvantages that compromise the health and well-being of a post-production, mining community”, Ethical Issues in Using Children’s Blood Lead Levels as a Remedial Action Objective, Moodie, Evans, 2011.

For additional information to learn about the issues of the Bunker Hill/CD’A Basin Superfund site and get involved to address problems with the Mission Repository, contact SVCRC at or call 208-784-8891.