Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the US and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, the AP has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, and at least five other states. The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the US for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold, and other "hardrock" minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.
Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers, and ponds—a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement. At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation's most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump.
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