Mining occurred at Red Devil Mine from 1933 until 1971, yielding approximately 35,000 2.5-quart flasks (76 lbs. per flask) of mercury. Operating under the 1872 mining laws, mine operators conducted extensive underground and surface mining, and disposed of mine tailings and processing wastes at the site. By the mid 1980s, the Red Devil Mine’s block of unpatented federal mine claims were declared “Abandoned and Void” and the site had fallen into ruin.
BLM began addressing hazardous materials and physical safety hazards at the Red Devil Mine site in 1987. Initial efforts focused on removing the remaining processing chemicals, PCBs in transformers, and backfilling open mine shafts and adits. In 2002 the derelict mine buildings and mercury production facilities were demolished and disposed in on-site one-time use landfills. From 2003 through 2006, BLM focused available funding on cleanup of spilled fuel from the mine’s large above ground storage tanks. With funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the petroleum cleanup advanced into final stages during 2009-2010.
Less visible, but perhaps more impacting, is the potential long-term environmental effect metals mining and processing left behind after the mine played out. The primary metals of concern at the Red Devil Mine site include mercury, arsenic, antimony and lead. The mining and processing of the ore (cinnabar) and the naturally metal-rich host rock resulted in large volumes of tailings with high metals content. Metals may leach from the tailings and enter ground and surface waters. Flooded underground mine works allow groundwater to come in contact with remaining ore and host rock, which in turn can then enter surface water and/or impact drinking water quality. The metals and their bio-available decomposition products can bio-accumulate in the foodweb, potentially affecting human health and the environment.
In 2008 BLM as lead agency, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, began a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) of the Red Devil Mine site. The RI/FS is being conducted in accordance with the National Contingency Plan as authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act, or CERCLA. The purpose of this investigation is to characterize the site, determine what potential risks the mine site may have on human health and the environment, and what can be done to mitigate those risks. BLM has established an Administrative Record (AR) for the RI/FS. The hard copy AR may be viewed at the Anchorage Field Office Public Room, or accessed on-line at the Red Devil Mine RI/FS Administrative Record Webpage.
A mining explosives storage magazine (powder house) was discovered during fieldwork at the Red Devil Mine site in July 2010. Contracted ordnance technicians investigated the partially collapsed structure for explosives and residue. The powder house did not contain explosives, so it was dismantled and the wood burned. A report documenting this activity is being prepared and will be posted in the Red Devil Mine Documents Library when available.