That is a matter of some controversy. Red Dog Operations, a mining company that runs a lead and zinc mine in Alaska, is the #1 listing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of industrial operations releasing waste material–a staggering 517,196,562 pounds of material in 2008. However, not all of that figure consists of toxic waste. Red Dog and various industry spokespeople are eager to point out that this large figure is the total of tailings from their mines, meaning, material moved out of the mine that is other than the minerals they’re looking for (zinc and lead). Tailings are not necessarily toxic, and some figures indicate that as much as 98% of the 517 million pounds of waste are non-toxic. Red Dog and others in the mining industry complain frequently that the figures they must by law report to the EPA on the waste material released are often incorrectly characterized as “pollution.” Even assuming that is correct, 2% of the 2008 release, or 10,343,931 pounds, would still legitimately be called toxic–a not inconsiderable amount, and, assuming other producers have similar toxic-to-non-toxic ratios, still larger than any other U.S. mine.
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