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Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Apr 13, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelHave you ever wondered what the byproducts of mining might be? We hear of “black water” still coming from 200-year-old abandoned mines and entering our groundwater. Black water is leaching out of old mines in the Eastern Sierra and joining up with some of our imported water.

But, what could be in this stuff?

Among other poisonous compounds, the process of mining can release arsenic, cadmium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc in toxic levels. Often, by the time it reaches our groundwater, these poisons are considered to be at a tolerable level. But just how much of a substance like arsenic is OK to drink?

The government says 10 parts per billion is OK. Not on my table. I don’t want ANY arsenic in my water.

ArsenicIn 2001, the government changed the amount of allowable arsenic in well water. The old figures were 50 parts per billion. It was reduced to 10. As a result of this change, 38 percent of the existing wells were out of compliance in California alone.

Consider that you might be getting 10 parts per billion in your tap water. But consider too, that plants such as rice, which grows in flooded fields, can also absorb arsenic and other poisons from the water it is grown in.

It has been shown that rice kernels also contain arsenic. It has recently been proven that ingesting even a small amount of arsenic can lower your IQ. (So, that explains it.)

Let’s just stick to arsenic for today. The other poisons have similar stories to tell.

What exactly is arsenic? It is an element. It is a metalloid. It’s symbol is “As.” Its atomic number is 33. It is used as a poison, it conducts electricity, and it is used in semiconductors.

Signs of arsenic poisoning.

Signs of arsenic poisoning.

Our society needs to mine minerals and metals for everything from cellphone towers to engagement rings. There is no doubt that without mining, we could not progress as a society. Nearly everything we use on a daily basis contains products that were mined. But we need to regulate the location of mines to keep our population safe from harm.

Let’s look at the proposed Cemex mine in the Soledad corridor as an example. It is situated fairly close to the far eastern portion of Santa Clarita. Dust from this mine could spread over a wide area, affecting many people in the closest housing tracts. They will have the greatest exposure from residual dust, noise pollution and water pollution.

Ranchers who rely on ground water will also have to test for heavy metals continually. The proposed mine is practically on top of the Santa Clara River. The headwaters run year ’round. Imagine the amounts of heavy metals being extruded by the mine and ending up in the river, and hence in your ground water.

The average concentration of arsenic in the water is 1 part per billion. However, in mining areas, it can be 1,000 parts per billion. Hello, Cemex.

Not only will the byproducts of mining affect us, but they will affect the endangered species in the area, as well. The river is home to multiple endangered species including the unarmored threespine stickleback, Southwestern pond turtles and least Bell’s vireo, to name a few.

And don’t fool yourself by saying you see no water in the river. Even if there is no surface water, the river is running beneath the sand. And it will be depositing more and more heavy metals if the mine goes forward.

The question is not, “Do you want to have arsenic in your cocktail?” It is, “How much arsenic would you like in your cocktail?”

Even without a local mine spewing its poisonous dust, arsenic occurs naturally in water. If you’re using tap water – or bottled water that originates from tap water – you should use a water filter. It will help get rid of heavy metals.

A plant in Fallon, Nev. How much arsenic is in it?

A plant in Fallon, Nev. Looks nice, but how much arsenic is in it?

I use a water filter for all of my bottled water. Why? Places like Fallon, Nev., have been known to have a high concentration of arsenic in their ground water – and it’s not even a huge metropolitan city. The Verde River in Arizona also has exceeded its .01 levels of arsenic. But high levels of arsenic can even be found in the Appalachian mountains.

Arsenic is considered highly toxic. Aside from death by ingestion, other maladies caused by arsenic are lung-skin-bladder-liver-kidney and prostate cancers, damage to blood vessels, darkening of skin, breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting. In areas where the concentration is high, bioaccumulation can occur in species such as fish and shellfish.

Know where your fish comes from. Know where your other foods and water come from. Third-world countries like India and Bangladesh have excruciatingly high levels of heavy metals in their bodies of water. Filter your water. If you rely on groundwater, have your water tested for heavy metals.

This article is not meant to scare you, but to enlighten you about the existence of heavy metals in your environment, your food and your water. Arsenic in drinking water can impact our health. It is one of the biggest causes of cancer mortality in the world.

Do a little testing now and then, and live a longer, happier, healthier life. Cheers.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

 

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