Mine and body

For the past few years, Yerington residents concerned about groundwater pollution from the Anaconda Copper Co. mine have been offered free bottled water by the mine’s owners, BP America and its subsidiary Atlantic Richfield. Those residents now say bottled water is not enough. They want at least $5 million.

That’s the minimum amount attached to a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Reno last week against the corporations. The suit accuses BP America and Atlantic Richfield of intentionally allowing toxic and hazardous substances to enter and remain on residents’ land and leak off the abandoned site. The plaintiffs say wells once used for drinking water are now contaminated with uranium, arsenic and other metals and that the corporations “intentionally masked the true extent of the contamination.”

The Anaconda Copper mine opened in 1941 and produced about 1.75 billion pounds of copper from 1952 to 1978. Uranium, a form of radioactive waste, is a byproduct of copper. Long-term and high-level exposure to it may cause cancer and kidney damage. At the time it was processed, it was dumped into dirt-bottomed ponds and then leaked into the groundwater. In 2009, the Associated Press reported that 79 percent of the wells tested north of the mine have “dangerous levels of uranium or arsenic or both that make the water unsafe to drink.” That finding helped lay the foundation for this lawsuit.