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(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a Bush-era permit to dump millions of tons of gold-mine tailings into Alaska's Lower Slate Lake, a move that even the government admits will wipe out the lake's fish and most other aquatic life.
On a 6-3 vote, the justices decided that the Army Corps of Engineers - and not the Environmental Protection Agency - had the authority to issue the permits. The ruling overturns the 9th Circuit's decision to vacate the permits on the grounds that they vi
Arsenic sources to the biosphere associated with gold mining include waste soil and rocks, residual water from ore concentrations, roasting of some types of gold-containing ores to remove sulfur and sulfur oxides, and bacterially enhanced leaching. Arsenic concentrations near gold mining operations are elevated in abiotic materials and biota: maximum total arsenic concentrations measured were 560 microg/L in surface waters, 5.16 mg/L in sediment pore waters, 5.6 mg/kg DW in bird liver, 27 mg/kg DW in terrestrial grasses, 50 mg/kg DW in soils, 79 mg/kg DW in aquatic plants, 103 mg/kg DW in bird diets, 225 mg/kg DW in soft parts of bivalve molluscs, 324 mg/L in mine drainage waters, 625 mg/kg DW in aquatic insects, 7,700 mg/kg DW in sediments, and 21,000 mg/ kg DW in tailings. Single oral doses of arsenicals that were fatal to 50% of tested species ranged from 17 to 48 mg/kg BW in birds and from 2.5 to 33 mg/kg BW in mammals. Susceptible species of mammals were adversely affected at chronic doses of 1-10 mg As/kg BW or 50 mg As/kg diet. Sensitive aquatic species were damaged at water concentrations of 19-48 microg As/L, 120 mg As/kg diet, or tissue residues (in the case of freshwater fish) > 1.3 mg/kg fresh weight. Adverse effects to crops and vegetation were recorded at 3-28 mg of water-soluble As/L (equivalent to about 25-85 mg total As/kg soil) and at atmospheric concentrations > 3.9 microg As/m3. Gold miners had a number of arsenic-associated health problems, including excess mortality from cancer of the lung, stomach, and respiratory tract. Miners and schoolchildren in the vicinity of gold mining activities had elevated urine arsenic of 25.7 microg/L (range, 2.2-106.0 microg/L).