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EPA Fines Gold Mines $618k for Poor TRI Reports

Emergency Planning
by Kelly Lagana
"Incorrect TRI reporting can be a gold mine of EPA violations -- literally. EPA recently settled with a group of Nevada-based gold mines for their failures to correctly report toxic chemical releases and waste management activities. The companies agreed to pay a total of $278,000 in fines and spend an additional $340,000 to conduct an environmentally beneficial project."

Careful analysis of the mines’ records by EPA inspectors revealed that the facilities failed to submit timely, complete, and correct Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, for toxic chemicals. These chemicals include cyanide compounds used to extract gold from the ore mined at the facilities, and lead and mercury compounds produced during the extraction process. Under the settlement, the companies will audit and correct their TRI reports for 2005 through 2011 to comply with EPCRA. EPA says that there is no evidence to suggest that the violations posed any immediate danger to workers at the facilities or local communities.

The agreement requires a $340,000 supplemental environmental project to identify the metal compounds formed the mines’ its oxide mill process. The gold companies will also perform audits at their facilities in the United States (in Nevada and Montana), correct reporting violations, if any, and pay a $10,000 penalty per violation, not to exceed $250,000.

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EPA requires reporting of toxic chemical releases under EPCRA, and facilities that manufacture, process, or use toxic chemicals over certain quantities must file annual reports estimating the amounts released to the environment, treated or recycled on-site, or transferred off-site for waste management. These reports are submitted to EPA and the state or tribe with jurisdiction over the facility. EPA compiles this information into a national TRI database and makes it available to the public.

Metal ore mining accounts for 98 percent of total TRI releases reported to EPA in Nevada. This investigation and enforcement are part of an ongoing national effort that began in 2008 to ensure that gold mining facilities are in compliance, and that the public has accurate and complete information about the facilities in their community. One of the facilities in this settlement is among the largest gold mines in the world. 

TRI: Who Must Report?

Facility Owners and Operators: TRI reports must be filed by facility owners or operators. Either a facility owner or its operator may file a report, but both will be held responsible if a report is not filed. Facilities must file TRI reports with the EPA before July 1 each year if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Have 10 or more full-time employee equivalents (i.e., 20,000 hours). One full-time employee means 2,000 hours per year of full-time equivalent employment. A facility would calculate the 10-employee threshold by totaling the hours worked during the calendar year by all full- and part-time employees, including contract employees, and dividing that total by 2,000 hours (does not include contract drivers or janitorial contractors).
  • The facility is in an NAICS industry code listed in 40 CFR 372.22 and 40 CFR 372.23.
  • Federal Facilities: Federal facilities covered by Executive Order 12856, Federal Compliance with Right-to-Know Laws and Pollution Prevention Requirements, must comply with TRI requirements. Federal facilities covered by this order include those:
  • Owned or operated by Executive Branch agencies regardless of Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code (includes federal prisons, national parks, and federal hospitals)
  • With 10 or more full-time employees (equivalent of 20,000 hours per year), and
  • That exceed "manufacture," "process," and/or "otherwise use" thresholds of a listed chemical

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The EPA is responsible for reporting on activities at federal facilities that are conducted by, for, or in support of the Agency. See Guidance Documents in this section for EPA Guidance for Implementing Executive Order 1285.

Federal Facility Contractors: Federal contractors that submit bids that exceed $100,000 must ensure that Form Rs are filed by their covered facilities for the life of the contract.

Suppliers of Toxic Chemicals: Suppliers of toxic chemicals must also fulfill notification requirements. Owners and operators must notify their customers that the product or mixture is an EPCRA chemical if their facilities:

  • Are in any of the SIC Codes 20 through 39 or a NAICS code that corresponds to SIC Codes 20 through 39 contained in 40 CFR 372.23(b),
  • Manufacture, import, or process a toxic chemical, or
  • Sell or distribute a product or mixture to a facility subject to TRI reporting or to a facility that, in turn, will sell or distribute the product to a facility subject to TRI reporting.



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