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Nevada mines were among the nation’s top polluters in 2008, again

Results from the annual Toxic Release Inventory showed a decrease in chemical emissions, but Nevada mining facilities still ranked among the top five polluters.

Results from the annual Toxic Release Inventory showed a decrease in chemical emissions, but Nevada mining facilities still ranked among the top five polluters.

The Toxic Release Inventory is a large online database available at It offers information on 650 chemicals from more than 21,000 private and federal facilities. Industrial facilities that meet certain thresholds for chemicals are required by law to report toxic releases to the EPA. The main toxic chemical releases in Nevada included lead, arsenic and zinc compounds, manganese and mercury.

Every year, the Environmental Protection Agency comes out with the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). And every year the mining industry comes out on top—or bottom, depending on your perspective. The year 2008 was no different.

The top five facilities in the nation with the most releases were mining operations, and two of them were in Nevada. Nevada ranks sixth in the nation for reported toxic releases, and it ranks No. 1 in mercury releases. Nevada mines accounted for 99 percent of the mercury released in the EPA’s Region 9, which also includes California, Arizona and Hawaii.

However, toxic releases in Nevada were down 10 percent from 2007, mostly because of fewer gold mining releases. There was a downward trend nationwide, where releases decreased 6 percent. This was partly due to fewer facilities reporting, which, the EPA said, could be the economy’s doing.

The top 10 Nevada facilities with the most chemical releases in 2008:

1) Newmont Mining Copper Canyon Facility in Battle Mountain released 52.9 million pounds of toxic chemicals.

2) Barrick Goldstrike Mines in Elko: 48.8 million pounds.

3) Newmont Mining’s Twin Creeks Mine in Golconda: 32.2 million pounds.

4) Newmont Mining’s Carlin South Area in Carlin: 26.8 million pounds.

5) Robinson Nevada Mining in Ruth: 14.1 million pounds.

6) Cortez Gold Mines in Crescent Valley: 11.09 million pounds.

7) U.S. Ecology Nevada , a radioactive and hazardous waste disposal company in Beatty: 3.19 million pounds.

8) Smoky Valley Common Operation , a gold and silver mine in Round Mountain: 1.78 million pounds.

9) Newmont Mining’s Carlin North Area in Carlin: 1.4 million pounds.

10) Newmont Midas Operations in Midas: 1.2 million pounds.

Nevada’s top four polluters also ranked among the nation’s top 10: Newmont’s Copper Canyon was No. 3; Barrick was No. 4; Newmont’s Twin Creeks was No. 7; and Newmont’s Carlin South Area was No. 10.

While the TRI is helpful from a public-right-to-know standpoint, there are some things to consider. For instance, it doesn’t note the time of release. “If you have a company that shuts down during winter … and opens when there are no inversions and high winds, that’s less of an impact to the citizens of this area than 24-hour, around-the-clock emissions,” says John Sagebiel, environmental affairs manager at the University of Nevada, Reno

Furthermore, the TRI tends to treat chemicals equally, listing them by pound, though some chemicals are worse than others. For instance, toluene, though toxic, eventually breaks down, whereas mercury doesn’t go away. Yet a facility emitting more pounds of toluene than one emitting mercury would be ranked higher on the list of emitters.

Also not considered in the TRI is data from you and me, or rather, anyone who drives a vehicle. It doesn’t include information on vehicle emissions, which release a significant amount of toluene, xylene and formaldehyde to the air. Though that adds up collectively, “We’re not individual big emitters,” says Sagebiel. “TRI is for big emitters.”