Human Health

Many people know that an abandoned mine is hazardous to your health because you can fall into a mine shaft and die (or be seriously injured).  Fewer people know that invisible health threats are also associated with abandoned mines—arsenic, lead and asbestos in processed mine rock, and mercury in fish.

Mercury: Millions of pounds of mercury were brought to the Sierra for use in gold processing, and approximately 10%-30% was lost to the environment. Today, mercury affects people and wildlife that eat fish from the Sierra, all the way down to the San Francisco Bay.  READ MORE

Arsenic, Lead and Asbestos: Toxic heavy metals occur naturally with gold – but when gold is mined and processed these metals are left much more available for human exposure than in their natural state. Today, many of our recreational trails and back country roads go through abandoned mines, and may pose a threat to people recreating on them.

What we know:

  • We know that these toxins are present at many places in the Sierra at levels that are dangerous to our health.
  • We know that people are being exposed in these areas through normal activities—like outdoor jobs, recreation or eating fish.
  • We know enough to start taking action.

What we’re doing:

The Sierra Fund, through our Reclaiming the Sierra Initiative, is working to make sure that the people affected (that’s you) have the most current information available, so they can make choices about protecting their health.  We are also working to stimulate the research needed to provide better, more complete and unbiased information about health risks from abandoned mines.

What you can do now:

  • Know your fish – avoid eating the ones with high mercury levels
  • Be cautious when recreating in mining territory – dust may have dangerous levels of toxins in it, and old mines can be a safety hazard
  • For more details and background, check out The Sierra Fund’s publications and sign up for our e news
  • Raise your voice!  Talk to your local officials, ask your local marina to post fish consumption guidelines, or land managers to post trail signs that help raise awareness about dust.
  • Donate to The Sierra Fund – help us expand our educational program to reach more people!
  • Peruse more resources here or check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

See Also:

Frequently Asked Questions – For concerned citizens

Health Outreach Program Report – The Sierra Fund’s 1-year pilot outreach program about environmental health threats associated with abandoned mines

Fish Consumption Advisories – State-issued fish consumption advisories for lakes, reservoirs and rivers in California, many based on high mercury levels in fish

Gold Country Angler Survey – A study The Sierra Fund has been conducting since 2010 to look at exposure potential to mercury through eating locally caught fish

Trails Assessment Project – The Sierra Fund’s study to learn about exposure potential from recreating on trails that go through historic mine sites

Mercury Trainings for Healthcare Professionals – The Sierra Fund’s program to educate regional doctors about mercury in the human body, and how to talk to their patients about eating fish