Idaho Mine Operator Pays for NPDES Permit Violations

Hecla Mining Company, operator of the Lucky Friday Mine and Mill near Mullan, Idaho, will pay a $177,500 fine for violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permit. The silver, lead, and zinc mine exceeded its permit limits for lead, zinc, cadmium, and total suspended solids between September 2008 and February 2009, EPA said. Discharges from the facility enter the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. In addition to assessing these civil penalties, EPA issued an administrative order to Hecla requiring the company to upgrade the Lucky Friday wastewater treatment system and achieve full compliance with its permit this week.

"Unchecked industrial discharges have serious environmental consequences for our rivers, lakes, and streams," said Ed Kowalski, Director of Compliance and Enforcement at EPA's Seattle office. "Compliance with wastewater permits is critical to protecting Idaho's waterways. Bringing this facility into compliance and reducing the metals load is a significant step forward in protecting and restoring the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River."

Water quality within the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River is severely degraded due to dissolved metals from historic mining activities, EPA said, noting that major tributaries are devoid of aquatic life due to high concentrations of dissolved metals such as zinc and cadmium, while other areas provide only partial support for fish and other aquatic species (e.g., suitable for migration but not spawning and rearing).

The Lucky Friday operations are the most significant contributor of metals to the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River above Mullan, EPA said. The NPDES permit limits were developed to ensure that the discharges from the Lucky Friday operations are protective of fish and other aquatic life in the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. The NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. Wastewater discharges from industrial sources, such as mining operations, may contain pollutants at levels that could affect the quality of water bodies and waterways. For more information on NPDES permits, visit http://cfpub1.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm.

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