RENO, Nev. (AP) — Test results the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited repeatedly as evidence that irrigated crops and livestock next to a polluted Nevada mine are safe for consumption were based on samples from four onions taken more than four years ago, newly disclosed documents show.
As recently as December, EPA referred to the tests conducted in 2007 to address concerns raised by a neighboring tribe and others about elevated levels of uranium and arsenic identified in irrigation wells used historically for alfalfa and onions north of the old Anaconda Copper Mine. The site is near Yerington, about 65 miles southeast of Reno.
The disclosure of the tiny sample has further riled leaders of the Yerington Paiute Tribe, who say that mischaracterization of the tests by the EPA undermines assurances from the agency that crops are safe to eat in the Mason Valley — an irrigated oasis in Nevada’s high desert where only 5 inches of precipitation falls annually.
“They say the agriculture is safe but they don’t have data to support that,” said Linda L. Howard, the chairman of the tribe, who is pressing the agency to conduct a comprehensive study of potential threats to area agriculture created by the World War II-era mine.
“EPA seems to be depending on a one-time check of a few onions from one farmer’s field,” she said. “With a large number of heavy metals and radioactive materials released from the site, we would hope a responsible EPA would look a bit farther into the problem.”
EPA project manager Jere Johnson issued a statement Dec. 21 in response to the tribe’s complaints the agency isn’t doing enough to pinpoint the current location of the toxic plume from the mine and its potential impact on water drawn for irrigation.
“Crops grown and livestock raised in the vicinity of the mine should be considered safe for consumption,” Johnson said. She went on to largely repeat EPA’s statement in the March 2011 edition of its monthly Anaconda/Yerington Mine newsletter regarding the 2007 onion test.