This was not the first river famous for trout fishing and whitewater to be so poisoned. And, as you read on, you’ll see it’s not likely to be the last.
While headlines across the country point fingers, hundreds of thousands of similar abandoned and inactive mines lie scattered across the nation.
So the very best that we could do to visualize abandoned and inactive mines using this data was to select only the mines whose development status as of 2012 was listed as a “Past Producer“:
What we should all take away from this map (besides an appreciation for the immense number of holes we’ve dug in the ground) is the alarming lack of data about the scope and scale of the abandoned and inactive mine problem. Even counting the quarries and gravel pits, the MRDS dataset only contains 118,399 records for past producers in the US, and the Office of Surface Mining’s enhanced Abandoned Mine Lands Inventory System (eAMLIS) database (not included in this map) only contains 53,794 records, mostly for coal. Even adding these two datasets together leaves us hundreds of thousands of mines short of the aforementioned estimates.
More than anything, this map shows how both the public and our public officials are largely in the dark about the abandoned and inactive mine lands that litter the landscape. Furthermore, we have little information about which of these thousands of points on the map have been reclaimed, and which are toxic abscesses in the earth’s surface just waiting to poison another watershed.
You can download and examine the raw data for yourself at bit.ly/usgs_mrds. Do you know of other federal datasets we should look at for information on inactive metal mines? Leave a link in the comments below.