Mining’s Toxic Legacy Initiative: 22 Counties in 15 Months

NEVADA CITY, 18 August 2009 – This month, The Sierra Fund’s Mining Project Organizer Mike Thornton completed a journey that took him to all 22 counties of the Sierra Nevada region in order to spread the word about legacy mining toxins that are affecting communities up and down the Sierra.

From Modoc to Kern and Yuba to Sierra counties The Sierra Fund made public presentations on the problems posed by legacy mining toxins including millions of pounds of mercury in our waterways, and arsenic, asbestos and lead in dust from mine tailings that has continued to impact the California’s environment and the health of our people for over 150 years. 

“It’s been an education and a pleasure,” Thornton commented, “to be able to travel to and through many diverse communities in the Sierra Nevada sharing what we have learned about legacy mining toxins, and learning what the various communities are doing to try to fix California’s oldest and most neglected environmental disaster.  Many people I talked with didn’t know there was a problem with eating certain fish or breathing dust around mine tailings.  I feel like we’ve made real progress in giving people the tools to protect themselves and their families.”

Thornton logged thousands of miles driving throughout the Sierra meeting with Tribal representatives, County Boards of Supervisors, Public and Environmental health officers, city planners, miners and concerned citizens to hear their perspective on the problems posed by these abandoned mines in order to build coalitions to seek real and practical solutions that are grounded in science but led by local communities.

In several counties Thornton was joined by Sandy Karinen of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in order to bring information on how local organizations and governmental entities can tap into federal monies available through the EPA’s Brownfields Program.  “This was something that local folks were glad to hear about because it’s one thing to want to do mine cleanup, it’s another thing to find money to do it,” remarked Thornton.

While this first major circuit riding effort has come to an end, Thornton is still travelling the Sierra to do presentations.  The Sierra Fund has received many invitations to bring information as more people want to understand the magnitude of the impacts they are dealing with in their home towns, and the real efforts being made to address one of the oldest and longest neglected environmental problems in the “Golden State.”

The Sierra Fund’s outreach on legacy mining toxins in the Sierra is funded by grants from The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. 

If you are interested in learning more about “Mining’s Toxic Legacy” or would like Thornton to come do a presentation for your group, organization or agency, you can get in touch with him via email: or call 530-262-7335 (cell) or via the office line 530-265-8454 X 10.