Bunker Hill Superfund Site
The Bunker Hill Superfund Site, often referred to as the Coeur d’Alene River Basin Cleanup Site, is located in northern Idaho and eastern Washington where early mining and milling methods led to environmental contamination from mine wastes.
- Environmental cleanup has been under way since the 1980s. Cleanup has included cooperation among federal, state, tribe, industries, and local communities.
- About 6,500 residential yards, parks, commercial properties, and other public areas have been remediated by placing healthy soil and surface cover.
- Children’s average blood lead levels remain generally low. Free blood lead testing is offered annually to children and pregnant women as a public health service.
- An “Institutional Controls Program” helps keep remediated properties clean.
- Cleanup also includes rehabilitation of mine and mill sites, railroad rights of way, recreation areas, and where drinking water or fisheries is affected.
- The Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission, a commission of three counties, two states, the federal government and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, provides citizens and communities unique access and engagement in the cleanup.
- Public health education and project outreach is widely available.
- Funding from two settlements will help EPA fund the majority of cleanup actions in the “Box” and the “Basin.”
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The project area follows the Coeur d’Alene (CDA) River system (South Fork and its tributaries, the main stem CDA River, and lateral lakes) and into the Spokane River. The North Fork of the CDA River is not part of the project area.
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The Silver Valley was founded over 100 years ago for its rich lead, zinc, and silver mining opportunities. In early years, mining and milling methods were inefficient compared to today and resulted in resource minerals and other concentrated constituents (lead, zinc, silver, cadmium, and arsenic) remaining in the tailings. It was typical at the time for tailings to be discharged into streams and across the floodplains. Metals in the tailings and the chemicals used in the milling process are hazardous to humans, fish, and waterfowl. Today, mines extract metals with a higher efficiency and operate under both state and federal environmental laws that greatly reduce potential impacts to the environment. Successful mining operations, tourism, and recreation endeavors continue side-by-side in the Silver Valley today.
|Circa 1920. Historic tailings photo – Osburn, Idaho. Tailings Plank Dam in South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. View eastward.||Circa 1993. Matching view of Osburn, eastward across the South Fork CDA River floodplain.|
Health risks are higher in areas where soil contamination is present and has not been cleaned up. Concentrated amounts of lead and other metals continue to both move through the CDA River system, ground water, floodplains, and the lateral lakes (known as the chain lakes). Metals concentrations tend to be high on hillsides between Smelterville and Kellogg due to past smelter emissions, and concentrates are commonly found on and near historic mill sites. Learn easy ways to reduce a child’s risk of lead exposure while recreating.
DEQ is a partner agency with EPA for cleanup actions. DEQ helps shape the scope of work and the approach for implementation of the cleanup, taking into consideration local interests, local concerns, and the state’s goals and priorities. DEQ implements several aspects of the cleanup.
Basin Property Remediation Program
The primary method of cleanup is removal of contaminated soil on the surface of properties and replacing it with uncontaminated soil. DEQ staff in Kellogg have provided oversight for mining company cleanup of residential areas from 1995 to completion. Since 2004, the DEQ Kellogg office has administrated the Basin Property Remediation Program for EPA, and over 7,000 properties have been remediated. With fewer properties left to be cleaned up, landowners have only 2 to 3 more years to participate in the fully staffed program. After that, the number of properties addressed each year will depend on the number of landowners who provide consent to DEQ. Learn more.
Roadway Surface Remediation Strategy
The Roadway Surface Remediation Strategy Program repairs and replaces deterioration of paved public roads to prevent release of the underlying contaminants into the environment. Many Silver Valley roads deteriorated over time due to heavy vehicle traffic during remediation activities. This program applies to paved roads in the Bunker Hill Superfund Site where surfaces serve as barriers to underlying contamination. This approach helps protect human health and reduce lead exposure, the aim of the Coeur d'Alene Basin cleanup. Local communities and road jurisdictions do the actual road work with funding from the cleanup either through EPA or the Coeur d’Alene (CDA) Work Trust. Learn more.
What is the CDA Work Trust? As a result of the Asarco bankruptcy, $435 million was placed in the CDA Work Trust. Per court order, this money is to be used only to perform EPA-selected cleanup actions in the CDA Basin. CDA Work Trust funds cannot be used for cleanup actions in the Box, the 21-square-mile area defined in the 2002 EPA Record of Decision.
Community Fill Plan
The Community Fill Plan is an agreement that outlines criteria for filling in areas with contaminated soil. If the existing ground is already contaminated, the plan provides criteria to evaluate the suitability of the fill area. All of the existing Institutional Controls rules apply to these projects, for example, the filled area will need to be capped with non-contaminated material to reduce human health risk. This plan could improve the suitability of a property for development, reduce the amount of Institutional Controls Program-generated waste, and prevent repositories from filling up prematurely. Learn more.
Project-Wide Cleanup Decisions
Superfund cleanup decisions are made by EPA and written into records of decision (ROD). A ROD is a legal public document issued by EPA outlining the cleanup that will take place at a Superfund site. EPA is the lead agency for the Bunker Hill Superfund Site and has issued three RODs for this cleanup. DEQ plays a role in plan development and project implementation based on our mission to protect the state's air, soil, water and its people. Learn more about RODs on EPA's website.
Annual project plans and quarterly updates are brought to the community through the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission (BEIPC), a commission of three counties, two states, the federal government, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Stay in touch with EPA and DEQ public announcements and plans to remain aware of opportunities to engage about current projects. Learn more about the BEIPC.
Get Connected, Be Engaged
- Contact us! See contact information at right.
- Receive the monthly citizen Q&A in DEQ’s Superfund Straight Talk.
- Participate in a citizens forum of the Citizens Coordinating Council through the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission.
- Receive a citizen bulletin published by EPA, the Basin Bulletin.
- If you live in the CDA Basin, know your child’s blood lead level. To participate in annual testing (no fee, HIPAA regulated), contact Panhandle Health District.
Daily project work is ongoing with community members, property owners, and jurisdictions. DEQ strives to inform the public about important project updates and opportunities to provide formal comment. We encourage comments and questions from the community.
DEQ’s office in Kellogg serves as a local presence that is easily accessible and available to assist with questions and issues about remediation work. DEQ Kellogg staff also provide community outreach and education. DEQ works closely with Panhandle Health District’s Lead Intervention Program and with EPA staff.
Contaminated soil waste generated by property remediation, homeowner projects, or business development is taken to nearby repositories. Repositories help keep the public safe by locating contaminated material in a central, stabilized, and controlled location. There are several repositories in the CDA Basin. All are successful and regularly monitored to ensure public and ecological safety.
What is a limited use repository?
A limited use repository (LUR) is a location where fill generated by road remediation projects will be placed for potential property development. In a Limited Use Repository Policy, DEQ and EPA agreed to segregate and reuse 100,000 cubic yards of expected road remediation waste. The policy outlines LUR development and construction. This policy will conserve capacity in three traditional repositories that accept waste from Superfund remedial actions.
How are contaminated material repositories safer for public health?
Soil repositories keep the public safe by locating contaminated material in a central, stabilized, controlled location which is regularly monitored to ensure public and ecological safety. If contaminated materials weren't disposed of safely, or not treated at all, public health would not be protected. Repository design is tailored to site needs. It requires monitoring wells, stormwater controls, and soil compaction as a part of a protective design.
Why not locate contaminated soil repositories outside the Superfund site?
This question was investigated in the 1991 ROD. Several factors determined why repositories would be located at the site. Considerations included hauling material over long distances, local availability of a waste site for local activities such as land development and public works projects, the need to maintain responsible control over the repositories, and a desire to locate repositories within the area that was already contaminated.
DEQ manages the operation of the Page Repository. Public access is restricted on repositories, although they are available to receive soil waste from community projects. Accepting soil waste from the community allows for continued economic development and healthy communities. Learn more.
Big Creek Repository
Big Creek Repository originally opened under the US Army Corps of Engineers for handling immediate-need contaminated soil during the earliest days of the CDA Basin cleanup. After that, the state of Idaho operated the site to accept wastes from remediation cleanup activities and ICP permit holders. In 2013 the CDA Trust took over operations. The site is located east of Kellogg and continues to accept both BPRP and ICP-generated waste from the Upper Basin region.
Lower Burke Canyon Repository
Lower Burke Canyon Repository is slated for construction starting in 2014. A 2-year site-selection process with the Technical Leadership Group and Upper Basin citizens resulted in DEQ’s selection of the Osburn Tailings Impoundment in Osburn and “Star” now Lower Burke Canyon Tailings Impoundment in Wallace (Burke) as two potential sites. In 2012 and 2013, nearby residents were invited through mail and door-to-door efforts and then engaged in the project design process.
The CDA Work Trust is the lead for developing Lower Burke Canyon Repository with EPA oversight and in coordination with DEQ.
East Mission Flats Repository
East Mission Flats Repository is located in Cataldo and accepts both ICP and remediation cleanup-generated waste. Learn more about the East Mission Flats Repository on EPA's website.
Water Treatment Endowment Fund
The purpose of the Bunker Hill Water Treatment Endowment is to fund future treatment of water at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. Learn more.