Representatives of Hecla Mining Co. plan to meet with southwestern Utah health officials to allay fears about a dry, dusty leaching pond at a closed silver mine.
Residents of Enterprise, New Castle and Beryl Junction have complained about the dust that blows over the communities. They worry that it may contain cyanide, which was used in the silver extraction process.But Hecla spokeswoman Vicki Kok said Monday the company has taken soil samples that show no detectible cyanide in the dust, which lies at the top of moister layers of soil on the bed of the 60-acre pond.
"Cyanide breaks down in the sun, and it is leached down by rainfall," Kok said by telephone from Hecla headquarters in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
"The problem is that there is blowing dust, and dust can be a problem anytime, anywhere," she said.
She said Hecla monitored the pond during its 10 years of operation and that no health problems were discovered.
Bill Dawson, environmental health director for the Southwest Health Department, said soil samples taken a year ago did reveal cyanide. But he also said the substance breaks down rapidly when exposed to sunlight and weather.
In the case of the pond, he said, what traces remain likely are "tied up with other elements" and not harmful to human health.
"The possibility is somewhat remote . . . but we still want to look at it," Dawson said.
He said a reclamation project to cover the tailings with vegetation has been held up since the mine was closed by state environmental agencies. Reclamation could begin next fall, state mining officials have said.
Marv Maxell, a spokesman at the state Bureau of Air Quality, said earlier that his agency would issue a notice of violation to Hecla, which would have 20 days to respond.
Maxell did not return repeated telephone calls Monday.
However, he said earlier that while the bureau "didn't know what's in the pond," it could issue the notice based on the fugitive dust.
Kok said Hecla planned to put a non-toxic "binder" substance over the top of the pond to seal the surface.
Meanwhile, Division of Oil, Gas and Mining permit supervisor Wayne Hedberg has said his agency is working with the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Water Pollution Control, the Division of Environmental Health, and the Division of Wildlife Resources on a reclamation plan for the site.
DWR officer Bruce Bonebraker said his agency is concerned about the site's hazards to wildlife. The division has documented cases of waterfowl deaths due to cyanide poisoning when the pond contained water, he said.
Hedberg said Hecla has made a good-faith effort to follow environmental requirements but has been impeded in its efforts to reclaim the pond.
Kok said Hecla officials would try to meet with Dawson as soon as possible.
"We intend to fully cooperate," she said.