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Abandoned Sierra Mines Make for Toxic Trails

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Abandoned Mines in the Sierra Nevada could pose health problems for recreational visits, according to a Nevada City environmental group. The Sierra Fund released a study Tuesday warning of possible dangers.

Those abandoned mines are relics of the gold rush, and according to the Sierra Fund, those same mines are potential public health disasters. Many off roaders and horseback riders use the mine areas around Nevada City. Sierra Fund CEO Elizabeth Martin says tests show some of those trails are contaminated with asbestos, arsenic and lead.

"It's sort of like having your children ride their equipment or their horse through toxic air particles," says Martin. "[That] not only have lead and arsenic absorbing into their blood, but also actually shards or fibers of asbestos lodged into their lungs."

Asbestos can cause a form of lung cancer, while lead and arsenic are deadly at high levels. There have been no official health advisories, and so far there are no studies linking exposure in that area to an increase in detected lead or arsenic levels.

Martin is asking the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees many of these areas, to do further study the soil and post signs outlining the risks.

A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service says they are very sensitive to environmental safety issues, but have not seen the Sierra Fund's final report. They add that when people go out in the forest for recreational use, they could be at risk. The U.S. Forest service notifies the public of those dangers at strategic locations, such as park headquarters.

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