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Danger - Nevada Tops the West in Latest Mercury Readings

February 15, 2007

Air quality tests near ten Nevada gold mines by the University of Nevada, Reno have produced startling numbers and a call for more thorough testing. The readings found the highest airborne mercury levels ever recorded in the Western United States, according to Bonnie Guestring of Earthworks. She says the mercury could pose health risks for workers, especially pregnant women.

"These measurements were anywhere from 100 to 600 times what you would find normally. Two of the highest mercury concentrations were measured in the mines' employee parking lots."

The mining industry contends that other pollution sources are to blame for the high readings, but Guestring argues that the closest source is usually to blame. She adds that, since the mercury is airborne, it's not only a potential health risk to workers, but also to anyone living downwind from the mines.

Dan Randolph of the group Great Basin Mine Watch says some of the high mercury readings were taken from mines that claimed zero emissions. Other high readings were found at the leach piles of some mines.

"There were some components of the mine that were not known to be high sources of airborne mercury. But these results imply that, where the rock is piled up and the gold is leeched out of the rock using cyanide, those rock piles could be significant sources of mercury into the air."

Randolph's observation is that it's time for Nevada to increase its air quality regulations and require more testing.

Michael Clifford/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - NV