An evening in Foresthill with The Sierra Fund

Last week over seventy five people showed up to the Foresthill Veteran’s Memorial Hall for an informational event about legacy mines hosted by The Sierra Fund (TSF).  This meeting attracted diverse attendees from local gold miners to Sacramento county residents.

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Over 75 people participated in The Sierra Fund’s informational meeting on legacy mining impacts in Foresthill, CA on February 20, 2014.

“We were thrilled to have such a broad range of participants attend the meeting,” said Elizabeth Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund.  “The number of people who attended and the great questions they asked clearly show that folks are interested in local mining history and how it plays into our lives today.”  The Sierra Fund was pleased to bring something to the Foresthill community that so many people are passionate about.

The Sierra Fund Science Director Carrie Monohan, Ph.D. presented Fish and Dust: Legacy Impacts from the Gold Rush, an overview of two studies The Sierra Fund completed to raise awareness about potential human exposure to heavy metals: the Gold County Angler Survey and the Gold County Recreational Trails Assessment.

Dr. Monohan described how the State of California has issued a fish consumption warning for all lakes and reservoirs, including Oxbow Reservoir and Hell Hole in Placer County, and has issued site-specific advisories for Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma.  These advisories warn that to be safe, women under 45 and children under 18 should not eat any bass or large brown trout from these and many other lakes.

Mercury, which was historically used during the gold extraction process, can move up the food chain and bioaccumulate in large predatory fish.  The way humans are exposed to that mercury is by eating fish that have lived a long time and have a diet of eating other smaller fish.

The evening’s other speaker, a representative from the U.S. Forest Service, went into greater detail on one particular site that was identified in The Sierra Fund’s Recreational Trails Assessment.  In 2010, The Sierra Fund identified the Marall Chrome Mine site, a former open pit chromium mine, as having potential public health issues as a result of the presence of elevated concentrations of chromium, lead, and naturally occurring asbestos.  This mine site is located within the Tahoe National Forest’s popular Foresthill OHV Trail System with trails for ATVs and dirt bikes running directly through the abandoned mine pit.

The Forest Service has completed a Preliminary Assessment/Site Investigation (PA/SI) for the Marall Chrome Mine Site to determine the extent of contamination and whether it poses a threat to human health and the environment.  This assessment confirmed TSF research and detected numerous other metals in the tailings piles, on roads, trails and downstream in Pagge Creek.

Contaminants of concern identified by the Forest Service in the preliminary assessment included lead and naturally occurring asbestos.  Naturally-occurring asbestos (NOA) that is not disturbed or deteriorated poses little health risk, but once in the air, fibers can be inhaled and may pose a significant health threat.  When asbestos-containing rocks are crushed or broken through weathering and ground disturbing activities such as vehicle travel on and maintenance of roads located in NOA areas, asbestos-containing dust can be generated.  The Forest Service is conducting more analysis at this site to further define the extent of elevated concentrations of metals and naturally occurring asbestos, and any human health risks.

Presenters accepted questions form the audience and even stayed late to talk with local residents about topics from the evening. Presentation slides, along with more resources, are available here:

This meeting was hosted in conjunction with the North Fork American River Alliance, Upper American River Foundation, North Area Sportsman’s Association, Sierra Club Placer Group and Sac-Sierra Trout Unlimited.

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