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U.S. EPA Directs Rare Earth Mine in San Bernardino County to Correct Hazardous Waste Violations

Release Date: 04/21/2014
Contact Information: Nahal Mogharabi, 213-244-1815, mogharabi.nahal@epa.gov

LOS ANGELES--The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today ordered Molycorp Minerals, LLC, to pay a $27,300 penalty for improper management of hazardous waste at its San Bernardino County mine and mineral processing facility. The violations were discovered as part of unannounced EPA inspections in October 2012.

EPA testing at the facility determined that leaked or spilled lead-iron filter cake had impacted on-site stormwater, with the potential to contaminate soil along the edge of the holding area. A majority of the impacted stormwater was treated prior to legal disposal into on-site surface impoundments. In addition, EPA investigators found several containers holding hazardous lead filter cake were improperly closed or labeled. Subsequent to the inspection, Molycorp discontinued the operation which generated the lead-iron filter cake.

Prior to Molycorp’s new process being implemented, lead-iron filter cake was the largest hazardous waste stream generated by Molycorp. Process waste containing toxic concentrations of lead were treated and solidified utilizing a filter press. That lead filter cake was transferred and stored in hazardous waste containers.

Molycorp operates a rare earth lanthanide mine, mill and separation facility near Mountain Pass, Calif. It is believed to be the only rare earth mine in the United States. Production of lanthanide (rare earths) metals at Molycorp began in 1952. The facility suspended operations in 2002 and re-opened in 2012. When alloyed with other metals, the rare-earths can provide enhanced magnetic, strength and high temperature and other properties. For example, high-strength magnets made from neodymium-iron--boron have been used in a variety of products, including electric motors and hybrid cars components.

This settlement is part of EPA’s nationwide enforcement initiative to reduce pollution from mineral processing operations. Because mining and mineral processing facilities have the potential to generate large volumes of toxic and hazardous waste, the Agency’s goal is to reduce the risk to human health and the environment by ensuring wastes from these facilities are properly managed.

Under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program, hazardous substances must be stored, handled and disposed of using measures that safeguard public health and the environment.

For more information on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws/rcra.html


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