News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 235

Boston Mine cleanup

A worker drops contaminated soil into the feeder box of the cleaning machineryMore than 158 years after the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, the Bureau of Land Management finished a pilot program to remediate some of the impacts caused by the lust for gold.

When James Marshall picked the pea sized gold nuggets out of the American River in January 1848, it changed the landscape of California forever.

"I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another."
-- James Marshall

Soon a deluge of humankind rushed to California seeking their fortune. By early 1849, gold fever was an epidemic. Those that arrived early were able to take advantage of the easy pickings. Soon, however, obtaining the gold became more difficult. New methods were needed to get the gold out of the earth. First it was panning in the rivers, backbreaking work, knee-deep in cold mountain streams and rivers -- digging, sifting, and washing. As panning became less effective, the miners moved to more advanced, efficient techniques for extracting the precious metal.

Probably the most effective mining technique was introduced in 1853. Water from higher up in the hills was diverted into hoses and forced through a narrow nozzle at such force to tear away walls of riverbeds and hillsides. Part of this technique included the introduction of mercury to extract the heavy gold from the lighter dirt and sand.

One such location where this technique was used is located on BLM-administered land and comprises the hydraulic mine site known as the Boston (Bunker Hill) Mine. This site is on the east side of the Greenhorn Creek - Bear River drainage and is part of the ancestral Yuba River gold-bearing gravel deposit.

Water and sediment sample results indicated high mercury contamination levels both in the 400-foot-long sluice tunnel and in the wetlands and reservoir area, which were created by a blockage at the inlet of the tunnel. It was probably one of the most contaminated hydraulic mine sites on BLM managed lands. Mercury was evident in everything from mosquitoes to frogs. It was an excellent location for a pilot remediation mercury cleanup project. It has been seven years since the project was started. It was finally completed in October 2005.

A worker drops contaminated soil into the feeder box of the cleaning machinery:
A worker drops contaminated soil into the feeder box of the cleaning machinery

More photos from the cleanup

- June, 2006

BLM California News.bytes, issue 235