An historic gold mine in the Amador County town of Jackson is now on the nation's worst toxic sites list. Today's action means permanent cleanup can start.
The Argonaut Mine operated from the 1850s to 1942. Rusty Harris-Bishop with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco says "tailings" - or waste left after the mining process - wound up in soils close to where homes and a junior high school now sit.
"They took out the gold but they left all of the other stuff that was down below ground," says Bishop. "So typically we're seeing arsenic in the tailings which are the remnants of the gold mining."
The mining operations also deposited high levels of lead and mercury. Waste from the mine is being held back by the Eastwood Multiple Arch Dam, which the EPA says is at risk of failure.
"The mine poses a potential risk to the people of Jackson and the environment if the tailings, and contaminated soils that are behind the dam, are not addressed," says Bishop.
The EPA has added Argonaut Mine to the Superfund program's National Priorities List. That means the agency can now begin full-scale efforts to cleanup contaminated soil throughout the 65-acre site west of Highway 49.
Last year, the EPA did initial cleanup and installed protective covering on areas with the highest levels of contamination.