UPPER SOUTH EAST COMMUNITIES COALITION, INC - Environmental Preservation Group in Washoe County
Methyl Mercury and other Chemicals of Concern
 
 
The source of Steamboat Creek (Little Washoe Lake) is heavily contaminated with Methyl Mercury.  And in fact, has been listed as an area of "high risk" for superfund status since 1996.  The sediment in that lake has this Methyl Mercury down quite a few feet.  This was from the ore smelting that occurred on the shores in the 1800’s during the Comstock mining boom. 
  
Over the years, and with each significant flood event, that Methyl Mercury gets washed downstream through Steamboat Creek and is dispersed over the land during flood events.  Sample testing on the land from Damonte Ranch to Donner Springs shows that that Methyl Mercury has leached into the land that the City has allowed building on.  That they continue to allow building on. 
   
As long at this chemical is stagnant (meaning not disturbed) then it should not be dangerous.  But when earth is moved for a development or a roadway project, then that dangerous chemical is spread in both the water and the air.  Arsenic is another dangerous compound that is prevalent in the land along the Steamboat Creek watershed, but that does not seem to cause concern with those that approve development. 
 
Methyl Mercury is so dangerous that the RTC (Regional Transportation Commission) removed the entire stream restoration portion for their second permit application for the Southeast Connector project to try and avoid an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would have been demanded by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the USECC (Upper South East Communities Coalition) and other private and government entities. 

According to studies done by both the Regional Transportation Commission and Lennar Development who, in 2006, wanted to buy the Butler Ranch North for a development project with 1300 homes on 216 acres; the Butler Ranch North and the Butler Ranch South each are heavily contaminated with Mehyl Mercury, Arsenic, Boron, Phosphorus and other chemicals of concern (COC's).
 
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) wants to put a six lane highway over this land and use the contaminated material (dirt) as fill for their project.  Fill estimates range from approx 5 feet to 23 feet in depth.  In other words, RTC wants to spend months digging it up and then piling it up for road base and putting asphalt on top of it.
 
All this to be done in a designated flood water storage area by the Cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe County and the Army Corps of Engineers.  It is in a FEMA designated flood-way and in a Critical Flood Zone.  In addition, in the same exact spot as the Truckee River Flood Project's Truckee Meadows Reach.  So, two massive infrastructure projects will go in the exact same location and will affect the exact same communities and neither one is factoring in the effects and impacts of the other.

Sources of methylmercury
Environmental sources
Methylmercury is formed from inorganic mercury by the action of anaerobic organisms that live in aquatic systems including lakesriverswetlandssedimentssoils and the open ocean.This methylation process converts inorganic mercury to methylmercury in the natural environment. 

Acute methylmercury poisoning occurred at Grassy Narrows in Ontario, Canada (seeOntario Minamata disease) as a result of mercury released from the mercury-cell Chloralkali process, which uses liquid mercury as an electrode in a process that entails electrolytic decomposition of brine, followed by mercury methylation in the aquatic environment.


 

EPA Public Comments to the Army Corps of Engineers
 
The Environmental Protection Agency has read the permit application submitted by RTC to the Army Corps of Engineers and they have submitted public comment on that permit application. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is very compelling reading. 
The EPA has touched on all our concerns regarding this project and the building in an area heavily contaminated by toxic soils.
Further Information on Methyl Mercury
 
You can find further information on Methyl Mercury on our website on our Documents page. 
 
A lot of our links connect directly to studies done by a local professor at UNR on the Steamboat Creek.
 
A related item is the designation of Washoe Lake as a "high risk" superfund site
 
 
While this document specifically talks about the Carson River there is info on Washoe Lake.
Effects of Methyl Mercury and Arsenic
 
Methyl mercury is the more toxic form of mercury which affects the neurological system and may be bio-accumulated.  Several studies indicate that methyl mercury is linked to subtle developmental defects in children exposed in-uteri such as loss of IQ points, and decrease performance in tests of language skills, memory function and attention deficits.  Methyl mercury exposure in adults has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack.
 
But a chemical that is just as dangerous as methyl mercury is inorganic arsenic.  This arsenic is prevalent throughout the area as shown in test done by Lennar Development in 2005 on the Butler Ranch North.
 
Exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause various health effects, such as irritation of the stomach and intestines, decreased production of red and white blood cells, skin changes and lung irritation.  There are studies that indicate the uptake of significant amounts of inorganic arsenic can intensify the chances of cancer development, especially the chances of development of skin cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer and lymphatic cancer.
 
A very high exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause infertility and miscarriages with women, and it can cause skin disturbances, declined resistance to infections, heart disruptions and brain damage with both men and women.
 
Finally, inorganic arsenic can damage DNA.
 
RTC’s own Soil Characterization Report and studies done in 2005 for the Butler Ranch North Lennar development project indicate that there are very, very high levels of arsenic on that land and RTC wants to dig up the methyl mercury and use that dirt as fill for the SEC.  There is no mention of the arsenic in their 404 permit application.  RTC has indicated in their permit application that they are going to use BMP’s (Best Management Practices) for the control of dust during the months and months of construction.  They also mention that if their employees need it they will be provided with maybe a paper suit and a dust mask.  Their solution to the dust problem, according to their 404 permit which includes their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, is careful scheduling, straw rolls and a water truck.  In addition, according to Washoe County Heath District they do not consider emissions of contaminants for construction sites but focuses on controlling dust.  So who is going to be monitoring the air for toxic dust?  This memo goes on to state that there “will be” plans incorporated into the SWPPP in case it floods while they have all this toxic material dug up.  But there is nothing in there yet for review.