Lead Queen Mine leaking 'orange sludge'

Lead Queen Mine leaking 'orange sludge'

PATAGONIA, AZ (TucsonNewsNow) - Nearly 70 years since its closure, the Lead Queen Mine is leaking acidic and toxic sludge into the nearby environment.

During an environmental impact monitoring visit by the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA) in March, the group witnessed noticeable pools of "orange sludge" and "iced tea-colored liquid" both in front and inside the abandoned mine.

Reports from the non-profit group also note that the mouth of the mine is open, with nothing in place to prevent further leaks into the surrounding areas and waterways.

"As we watch Arizona Mining Inc. and other companies expand their industrialized mineral exploration in the Patagonia Mountains, the Lead Queen mine provides a timely example of the damage done by mining, long after the companies are gone," said Julie Olbrantz, PARA's Coordinator in a news release.

According to the citizen watchdog organization, the acid mine drainage and contaminants from the mine would seep into Sonoita Creek and then flow into Patagonia Lake, both popular places for wildlife gatherings and human recreational activity.

PARA is now advocating for the cleanup and scrubbing of the Lead Queen site and has alerted the Coronado National Forest of the issue.

Due to a previous incident in October of 2014, when a leaking substance from the mine tested for a pH level of 2 indicating high acidity, the Coronado National Forest installed structures to seal off the mine.

However, these structures were overwhelmed by heavy rains in August of 2016 and forced the Forest Service to make a second attempt at cleanup in addition to using $400,000 of taxpayer funds.

The following is a response from the U.S. Forest Service on the 'sludge' leaking from the mine:

In 2016 a significant monsoon event resulted in the forest initiating a time critical removal action to address the discharge, gabion structures were installed downstream of the adit, and a zeolite passive treatment at the portal was installed as a temporary measure to address the mine drainage. 
In 2017 the forest continued investigations and research at the site to better understand the complexities associated with the mining and geology of the area, and also discussed alternatives for a permanent remedy.  The forest pursued two alternatives:  an in-stream hydraulic control system, and a hydraulic concrete plug at the adit opening.  
For the in-stream hydraulic control system, a hydrologist performed a hydraulic analysis and designed a hydraulic control structure to filter the heavy metals out of the discharge and neutralize the acid mine draining utilizing the zeolite.  
For the hydraulic concrete plug, the forest performed both an above and below ground mine assessment to characterize the geology and hydrology inside the mine, and validate the feasibility of a hydraulic concrete plug.  We recently received the mine assessment report.  Coupled with this alternative, the United States Geological Survey is preparing a geochemical and isotope analysis to investigate and evaluate the inner workings of the water discharge from the mine.
The forest in coordination with the Regional Office is currently reviewing the ability to implement, the feasibility, and the costs associated with both alternatives. The final decision for the remediation action will be documented in an Action Approval Memorandum for the Lead Queen Mine.

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