Residents local to the old Anaconda copper mine in Nevada had filed a class action lawsuit after the federal USEPA investigation determined that uranium, a by-product of the mine, was leaking into groundwater, resulting in “dangerous levels of uranium or arsenic or both” in 79% of wells north of the mine. A US Labour Department review in 2008 also revealed that the clean-up schedule had not been enforced.
The Defendents (the mining company) had moved (in court) to dismiss seven of the ten claims, but the Court had upheld the Residents claim founded in Rylands v Fletcher strict liability. Here is the Court ruling dated 30th August 2011.
Per the ABC news article – Fueled by demand after World War II, Anaconda produced 1.7 billion pounds of copper from 1952-78 at the mine in the Mason Valley, an irrigated agricultural oasis in the area’s otherwise largely barren high desert. The EPA determined over the years that uranium was produced as a byproduct of processing the copper and that radioactive waste was initially dumped into dirt-bottomed ponds that — unlike modern lined ponds — leaked into the groundwater.
BP and Atlantic Richfield, which bought Anaconda Copper Co. in 1978, provided bottled water for free to any residents who want it for several years. But they say uranium naturally occurs in the region’s soil and there is no proof that a half-century of processing metals is responsible for the contamination. Local residents started seeking outside legal help after a new wave of EPA testing first reported by the AP in November 2009 found that 79 percent of the wells tested north of mine had dangerous levels of uranium or arsenic or both that made the water unsafe to drink. One and a half miles away had uranium levels more than 10 times the legal drinking water standard. At the mine itself, wells tested as high as 100 times the standard.
Though health effects of specific levels are not well understood, the EPA says long-term exposure to high levels of uranium in drinking water may cause cancer and damage kidneys.
Per the ABC news article – The companies agree to pay $7 million in property damages and $900,000 to a medical monitoring fund. The final damages will depend on the cost of extending city water supplies to about 200 residents, estimated between $6.5 million and $12.5 million.