The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys scientific and technical decisions in assessing risks to human health from pollution at a Superfund site in the Coeur dAlene River Basin have been generally sound, says a new report from the National Academies National Research Council. And the agencys remediation plans for residential areas should adequately protect residents against the most serious health threats, provided floods do not recontaminate cleaned-up areas. However, the committee that wrote the report expressed "substantial concerns" about EPAs proposed strategies for cleaning up and protecting the environment, including fish and wildlife.
Congress asked the Research Council to assess EPAs decisions concerning a 1,500-square-mile area in the Coeur dAlene River Basin of northern Idaho and eastern Washington that is designated for cleanup under Superfund legislation because of contamination from years of mining for silver, zinc, and lead. A 21-square-mile "box" around Idahos Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex was declared a Superfund site in 1983 after high blood levels of lead were detected in local children, and high levels of metals were measured in the environment.
EPA expanded its Superfund cleanup in 1998 to include contaminated areas throughout the Coeur dAlene River Basin, and in 2002 outlined a plan to clean up parts of this pollution and lessen risks to human health and the environment. Three-quarters of the proposed $359 million expenditures are to finance the first steps toward protecting the environment, including fish and wildlife, over an approximate 30-year period. The committees concerns pertain primarily to these remedies. The other quarter of the funds is intended to address human health risks, which EPA expects to accomplish well before the 30-year mark.
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