North Idaho

EPA spending $38M this year to clean up Silver Valley

EPA spending $38M this year to clean up Silver Valley

OSBURN, Idaho - The EPA is moving forward to clean up the Silver Valley's toxic past, spending $38 Million on one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation.

The water and mountains are part of what makes North Idaho so beautiful, but if you dig into them you'll find a toxic past left behind by more than a century of mining, which has left the soil and roads around the Silver Valley contaminated.

Crews are now digging towards Silver Valley's future. One of their projects is Polaris Avenue in Osburn, where much of the soil is contaminated with lead and arsenic. Instead of digging up the contaminated soil and putting it at some dump site they're using special materials and asphalt to seal the road and make it safer for the community.

"The reason why the government is here is we think there is enough of a human health concern that we are placing barriers and removing contaminated soils so that people are not at risk," Bruce Schuld with the Department of Environmental Quality said.

The most harmful risk is dust being kicked up as they work, so crews are wetting down the soil as they work.

Chris Lockard lives right in the middle of this project. Contamination is something he's dealt with his entire life.

"It's a part of being in the Valley, it's a part of the mining culture from years and years and years ago and now they've just finally developed a plan to somewhat clean it up," he said.

Workers have been cleaning up the Silver Valley since the 1980s and this year work will take place on roads, old mining sites and in the rivers.

"We're trying to manage it in the places where people live, where they recreate, where they work. Also control the sources that contribute lead and other heavy metals to the system," EPA Project Manager Ed Moreen said.

The EPA said drinking water around the sites is tested, and if you live near one of these -- practice good hygiene by washing your hands and face often.

"You don't need to be worried but you should exercise proper precautions to protect your health as with any risk," Moreen said.

Federal funding for this year's cleanup is set at $38 Million with most of it coming from settlements with HECLA and ASARCO. The cleanup of the Silver Valley is expected to take 30 years though more may be required.