The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is the premier federal agency responsible for regulating the cleanup of hazardous waste like asbestos, recently announced it was going to be cleaning up the Yerington/Anaconda mine site in Lyon County in central Nevada.
This site, which is a Superfund site (EPA Region 9, Superfund Division), though not on the National Priority List (NPL) of hazardous waste sites in the U.S., comprises 3,400 acres in Mason Valley, near Yerington. Located about 65 miles southeast of Reno, the capital city, the mine was primarily used to extract copper.
The EPA’s plan to demolish the administration building is only one of several planned projects that the site, but so far the only one involving asbestos, which is recognized as a carcinogen and thus classed as hazardous waste.
Asbestos, the mineral, occurs in certain rock formations, notably in California, where typical ultramafic rock formations, including serpentine, occur throughout the state. The soils where these rocks are located also contain asbestos. Similar rock formations also occur in Montana, Vermont, North Carolina and Arizona.
For most the last century, asbestos was mined (in the above-mentioned states) and used in thousands of domestically-manufactured products, most in the building trades industry, though asbestos can also be found in automotive products, adhesives, oven gloves, ironing board covers and hair dryers.
Most uses were discontinued in the mid-1970s, when health officials began to identify health risks associated with the fibrous mineral, specifically mesothelioma. By 1989, the EPA moved to ban asbestos use in domestic production to one percent (or less, by weight or volume).
Unfortunately, since peritoneal mesothelioma has a dormancy period of up to 50 years, the asbestos legacy and numbers of Americans afflicted is not expected to diminish at least until about 2030. Current estimates suggest that 10,000 Americans die from asbestos-related illnesses yearly, with 2,500 of those dying from mesothelioma.
The EPA has already admitted that removal actions, like that directed at the Anaconda mine administration building, are designed to “address what it believes to be urgent threats to human health and the environment.”
Work on the administration building, located on Burch Drive right across from the main entrance to the mine site, is expected to begin in April of this year, and be completed with 30 days. Removal of asbestos from the building will be accomplished by EPA Emergency Response staff and EPA contractors.
The asbestos remediation follows the discovery, in the fall of 2009, of asbestos-containing materials, or ACMs, in the building’s siding, floor tiles and mastic, in some of the plaster coating the interior walls, and in a few areas of pipe wrapping.
The ACMs will be removed and then sent to a landfill designated to accept asbestos. Once that is accomplished, the EPA can deconstruct the building, but only after consulting an archaeologist, in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, to determine if the building has any historical value, since it is more than 50 years old.
Once the building is demolished, non-hazardous waste will be placed in an on-site construction waste landfill, and guards provided until the site is permanently fenced.
Because health regulations mandate that ACMs be removed by hand instead of using heavy equipment, the project will take an entire month. And, even though ACM removal is not expected to generate a great deal of dust – and the area is not heavily populated in any case – the EPA anticipates spraying water treated with wetting agents, or surfactants, to keep dust to a minimum.
Before the demolition commences, the EPA will also, according to federal law, conduct a public comment period when the Administrative Record for the site is available for public perusal. This paperwork is being kept at the Lyon County Library in Yerington.
Sources: Reno Gazette-Journal, US Forest Service, Environmental Working Group