Legacy Mining Impacts

The Problem

The widespread distribution of toxins associated with the Gold Rush, including mercury, arsenic and lead, constitutes the oldest and longest neglected environmental problem in the State of California.

The California Gold Rush, while it contributed enormously to the prosperity of the state and the nation, devastated the land and people of the Sierra Nevada. The continued presence of mining toxins perpetuates this devastation today. Sierra residents encounter elevated levels of arsenic and asbestos when recreating outdoors, excessive arsenic in groundwater, and high levels of mercury in fish. Native Peoples cannot practice traditional ceremonies or activities without risk. Since the Sierra is the source of more than 60% of California’s drinking water, the entire state is affected by this pollution.

Reclaiming the Sierra Initiative

Since 2006, The Sierra Fund has been working to describe how legacy mining still affects Californians, and to bring resources and strategic direction to address these century-old problems.  Our “Reclaiming the Sierra” Initiative has brought together partners from state, federal, and tribal governments as well as from the academic, health, and environmental communities to examine this issue.

Our work on these issues is directed into several distinct projects and towards two overarching goals:

Goal 1:  Prevent exposure of Sierra residents and downstream communities to environmental health hazards including mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxins. Our work towards this goal includes education, original research, and advocacy to make more information publicly available.

Goal 2:  Clean up legacy mining toxins at their source, so that future Californians are no longer affected by this legacy pollution.  We work towards this goal through pilot projects, identification of best practices for cleanup, and advocacy for increased assessment, coordination and funding.

See Also:

Projects associated with our Reclaiming the Sierra Initiative

Frequently Asked Questions – For concerned citizens

Our Mining’s Toxic Legacy Report, published in 2008, which is still hailed as the most comprehensive look at the ongoing environmental, cultural and human health impacts of the Gold Rush.

Other publications associated with our Reclaiming the Sierra Initiative, including technical studies, presentations, and educational materials.

Our Working Group of advisors, who form a network of technical support and coordination for our Reclaiming the Sierra initiative strategy and projects.