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Last Edited: 8/5/2010

Leviathan Mine, Alpine County - Public Health Activities

In 2003, the California Department of Public Health--formerly California Department of Health Services (CDHS)--conducted an evaluation of the public health implications from contamination at the Leviathan Mine.

The site

The Leviathan Mine is located on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in Alpine County, at approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. The site was originally mined for copper sulfate in the late 1800s,and for sulfur in the mid-1950s. Over 20 million tons of crushed rock containing high levels of sulfur ore was spread over the site; the waste rock is the major source of contaminants from the Leviathan Mine. Liquids flowing from the waste piles at the site have caused significant contamination and ecological impact to Leviathan, Aspen, and Bryant creeks, as well as the River Ranch Irrigation Channel.

                                                      

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California expressed concern that contaminated waters from Leviathan Mine may have affected their lands downstream from the mine. Their concerns were related to impacts on culture and health, environmental damage, remediation, monitoring and testing, posting of health advisories, drinking water, effects on pregnancy, cancer, and public outreach. 

 

CDHS's involvement at the site

CDHS began health assessment activities as a result of the site being listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s National Priorities List in May 2000. EPA is the lead regulatory agency overseeing cleanup of the mine. Under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, CDHS conducted an evaluation of the Leviathan Mine, and presented its findings in a report called a public health assessment.  

Public Health Assessment for Leviathan Mine [5/7/03] 

 

CDHS's summary of findings

  • CDHS found past and present consumption of water from Leviathan, Aspen, Bryant Creeks and the River Ranch Irrigation Channel downstream of Leviathan Mine pose both cancer and noncancer health risks from exposure to arsenic contamination.
  • Swimming and wading in these same water bodies poses health risks from past or present exposure to arsenic.
  • Improvements in surface water quality in Bryant Creek and River Ranch Irrigation Channel mean that future exposures will not pose a public health risk.
  • A lack of data did not allow a further evaluation of the health implications for consumption of fish, plants, and wild game collected near Leviathan Mine, eating beef raised on the River Ranch, inhalation of dust near the mine, and future exposure to surface water and sediments via drinking, swimming and wading in Bryant Creek and the River Ranch Irrigation Channel.

Recommendations made in the public health assessment

  • CDHS recommends that community members, residents, visitors, Washoe Tribal members, and on-site workers avoid contact with Leviathan Mine tailings, surface waters, and sediments from the mine excavation, and that users of the area minimize exposure to Bryant Creek and the River Ranch Irrigation Channel waters and sediment, until data indicate exposures to these media do not represent a health risk.
  • CDHS recommends that community members, residents, visitors, and Washoe Tribal members avoid eating fish caught in Leviathan, Aspen, and Bryant creeks, and the River Ranch Irrigation Channel, until it can be determined if fish in these areas contain elevated levels of metals associated with contamination that could present health risks.
  • CDHS recommends that people who collect plants in the vicinity of Leviathan Mine for consumptive or other purposes select harvest locations as far from the mine site as possible. CDHS also recommends that these plants be washed with non-contaminated water to remove dust and dirt. These efforts will help minimize potential risks from consuming or using plants from the area.
  • CDHS recommends that EPA or other appropriate agency collect fish tissue data for the creeks downstream of Leviathan Mine to determine if fish in the area have concentrations of contaminants at levels that could present health risks. 
  • CDHS recommends that EPA or Lahonton Regional Water Quality Control Board (LRWQCB) assess the characteristics of the roadbed materials on roads that access Leviathan Mine to determine if contaminants are present in the roadbed at concentrations that could present a health risk.
  • CDHS recommends that EPA or LRWQCB collect sediment data from creek beds to better understand the potential risks these sediments pose. 
  • CDHS recommends that future surface water sampling events include total and dissolved analyses.
  • CDHS recommends that EPA, LRWQCB, and the responsible parties assure that dust minimization efforts are undertaken at the site during remedial operations to reduce any potential future contaminated dust exposures.
  • If contaminants from Leviathan Mine are found to be accumulating in fish collected from the impacted creeks, CDHS recommends that EPA or LRWQCB investigate other wildlife for the potential to be accumulating contaminants from Leviathan Mine.


Related Topics

 

Project Location

  • CA Counties: Alpine