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★ Jeff Kane: Enjoy breathing? Consider the proposed mine

Dr. Jeff Kane reveals the serious health problems Nevada County suffers due to very poor air quality, then questions the assertion that the proposed mine will mitigate risks and meet air quality "standards".

You can also read this in The Union.


The valid criticisms that can be made of Rise Gold’s bid to reopen the Idaho-Maryland mine are as numerous as the South Yuba’s pebbles, but in this space I’ll just address its predictable effects on our air quality.

California’s air quality in general is already poor. According to the American Lung Association, the five cities in the country with the worst annual particulate pollution and highest ozone levels are in California, and include the Sacramento-Roseville region. California’s most polluted cities are also those most affected by our now-endemic wildfires, which severely aggravate monthly and annual air pollution averages. Ongoing climate change, bringing warmer and drier conditions, intensifies wildfires, so is certain to worsen California’s air quality.

Nevada County is even more affected than the state. The American Lung Association gives our community an F grade for ozone levels, designating 105 days per year “unhealthy.” Our county has long been considered “Sacramento’s tailpipe,” as auto exhaust emitted there funnels here. And during the past two summers, wildfires contributed to entire weeks the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District labeled “very hazardous.”

Airborne elements from the proposed mining will include dust, ozone, and noxious particulates and chemicals, not to mention considerable greenhouse gases. The project’s diesel particulates will be mostly of a size that readily enters human lungs.

Current and future Nevada County children will absorb more of this than adults do, both because of their more rapid respiratory rate and exposure during the 80 years of the mine’s operation.

The particles we’ll all inhale include asbestos, silica, heavy metals, and more than 40 known cancer-causing organic substances. The California Air Resources Board has classified diesel particulate emissions as a toxic air contaminant, and estimates that about 70% of the cancer risk that the average Californian faces stems from this source.

Whatever paltry benefits Nevada County might glean from this project, it will certainly damage our health. Our mortality rate from chronic lung disease is already double the rate in California statewide: 69 versus 35 deaths per 100,000 people. Many of us are already at risk simply for our age.

According to the 2020 census, one in three of us is 65 or older, compared to the statewide proportion of one in seven. Our heart disease mortality rate is half-again higher than statewide.

In 2014 Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital saw 369 adults and children for acute asthma and admitted 88 at cost of over $3 million, and that represents only one single illness.

Although airborne mining emissions will raise the incidence of local pulmonary and cardiac illnesses, with all their personal and financial costs, the proposal’s Draft Environmental Impact Report asserts that none of Rise Gold’s operations, properly mitigated, will violate air quality standards. Mining operations are infamous for circumventing and ignoring mitigations. This report recommends more of them than any public agency can monitor, enforce or, most importantly, afford.

The report’s repeated conclusions, “no significant impact,” were written by people who won’t live here the next 80 years. They are based on estimated quantities and arbitrary limits, not on varieties of human experience like anxiety, irritation, aesthetics, and sensitivity to noise and odor.

Nevada County can’t tolerate additional air pollution. That bears repeating: Nevada County can’t tolerate additional air pollution. But that’s not the only issue in this outrageous proposal. Considering its predictable injuries to Nevada County’s health, beauty, economics and well-being, no one who values our community can claim it has redeeming value.

Jeff Kane, MD, lives in Nevada City.



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