Can we have healthy living environments in mining-impacted river basins?

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Sep 30, 2019
Author: 
Courtney Cooper, Valerie Wade, and Chloe Wardropper

This case familiarizes students with toxic metal contamination, remediation and restoration options, and stakeholder perspectives across a complex social-ecological system (SES). The location of the case is the Coeur d’Alene River Basin in northern Idaho, USA. Metal mining occurred in the Basin starting in the 1880s. During this time, mine waste was released directly into creeks and rivers for decades. Due to flood events, contamination was dispersed over hundreds of acres of the expansive valley floor. As a result, a large portion of the Basin was designated a Superfund site in 1983. Today the site is the second largest Superfund site by land area with the largest residential population living within the Superfund site boundaries of any site in the US. The Superfund clean-up process has helped to mostly contain contamination from past mining within residential communities. The clean-up has been led by local, state, and federal partners. Unfortunately, contamination persists throughout the Basin. 

Yearly spring flooding means that popular beaches and wetland areas with the primary floodplains of the Coeur d’Alene River have high concentrations of toxic metals include Zinc, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Lead.

Estimated time frame: 
A few class periods (i.e., less than 3 hours)
SES learning goals: 
  • Systems Thinking
  • Socio-Cultural Competencies

Key Words: toxic metal contamination; stakeholder analysis; public hearings; human health

Has this been tested in the class room: 
No
Does this case have an answer key: 
No
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