My friends in Japan tell me Fukushima is rarely discussed anymore. The problem has disappeared from mainstream public consciousness although the plant continues to contaminate fresh water aquifers and the Pacific Ocean.
I find the same phenomenon occurring in my backyard.
I live adjacent to an old mining town that is in my eyes located in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love the desert!
Tragically, this seemingly pristine beauty is marred and threatened by the legacy of gold mining in the area. Mining started in the late 1800s and continued through the 1950s.
Spur Cross Conservation Area - the most biologically diverse area in the region - is threatened by two very large gold mines located adjacent to Cave Creek (one of which featured below):
Although some mitigation has occurred, you can see in the image above (taken a much higher elevation) that this mine has been covered with top soil and left to sit. The very large site (hard to tell from this photo) is barren and includes huge tailing pools that look entirely unmitigated (look by saguaro on the left).
In 2002 the EPA gave the city of Cave Creek a tiny grant to assess ongoing contamination of soils but the real concern is contamination of the ground water:
EPA gives $165,600 grant to Cave Creek for pollution assessment at mine site. EPA. October 5, 2003, https://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/6427a6b7538955c585257359003f0230/b4ef7bb1296ae22c852570d8005e15a7!OpenDocument&Start=1&Count=5&Collapse=3A 2004 report by Maricopa County Parks and Recreation found ground water contamination from the mine, in addition to a potential septic tank leak that is affecting water quality in Cave Creek itself:
The Phoenix Mine site has elevated lead and arsenic levels in soils and there are concerns regarding cyanides used in the former heap leaching process.
Maricopa County Parks. 2004. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area Master Plan, http://www.maricopacountyparks.net/assets/1/6/2004_Spur_Cross_Ranch_Conservation_Area_Master_Plan.pdfCave Creek runs south into Phoenix. It only runs part of the year but it rushes to fill its banks after heavy rains.
In summary, there appears to be a groundwater problem with nitrate, mercury, and arsenic in the area directly around the Maricopa Mine site, but no indication that this problem is affecting any groundwater downgradient of the site or in the stream. A possible source of contamination by septic tank discharge should be investigated.
I cannot find the evidence but I have little doubt that the water from Cave Creek filters into the aquifers in the area that provide many people with drinking water.
A report by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that a study conducted on wells in the region found water to be contaminated by arsenic, lead and copper:
HEALTH CONSULTATION: EXPOSURE INVESTIGATION OF PRIVATE DRINKING WATER WELLS CITIES: NEW RIVER, DESERT HILLS, AND CAVE CREEK 2010 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/pha/pha.asp?docid=917&pg=1Yet despite the clear evidence of contamination and the likelihood of increasing contamination from the mine sites, nothing is done and no one here talks about the problem.
Arsenic, copper, and lead were detected in water samples in excess of the ATSDR chronic exposure comparison value for children. Of the 83 water samples, 54 wells contained arsenic at levels exceeding the comparison value, 24 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level for lead, and 17 exceeded the comparison value for copper. The following table summarizes the analytical results.
In fact, NONE of the real estate developers and agents I've talked to in the area - even ones who have lived here for years - have a clue that the mines threaten Cave Creek's drinking water.
When I do mention the problem, they point out that this is a topic that would not be popular among local residents or business people.
Consequently, the problem is buried. No one deals with it. People turn away from the legacy of human disregard with potentially long-term catastrophic consequences for individuals - especially children - and the entire community.