A proposed partial consent decree filed Dec. 28 in U.S. District Court in Boise would resolve claims by the federal government and the tribe against Sunshine Mining and Refining Co. and Sunshine Precious Metals over pollution in the Silver Valley. They are among seven defendants in the lawsuit over mining pollution at the Bunker Hill Superfund cleanup site. The Sunshine defendants are reorganizing under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Public comment will be accepted until Jan. 11. The mining companies - including Asarco Inc., Hecla Mining Co. and Coeur d'Alene Mines - discharged tailings and acid mine drainage into the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and its tributaries for decades, Justice officials said. A request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to halt efforts toward waste cleanup until the huge suit is decided was turned down flat, as "unconscionable.'' Sunshine would ultimately convey title to the federal government or the tribe, pay royalties to plaintiffs on all mining revenues from property in the basin - at market price and perform cleanup at a closed mill at the Silver Summit Mine site. The case goes to trial in Boise on Jan. 22. The settlement does not affect the claims against the other companies.
Kootenai County Coroner Robert West said smoke from burning wheat stubble, not grass fields, led to the death of a 49-year-old Rathdrum woman in September. West said that Marsha Mason's asthma attack was "triggered by the severe air pollution'' from wheat field burning. He said that determination was made on Sept. 15, the day after Mason's death. West said he was told by Department of Environmental Quality in September that smoke from wheat burning in Worley and Washington state exceeded that of grass field burning. Initially, smoke from burning grass fields was attributed as the cause of Mason's death. Michael Gersten, an air quality analyst with the Department of Environmental Quality, said he still believes grass burning was responsible. "Smoke is smoke to an asthmatic,'' he said. Rathdrum Prairie grass growers burned 632 acres on Sept. 13, Gersten said. Another 5,890 acres were burned on the reservation that day. In the Spokane Valley, smoke from wheat burning was at low levels on Sept. 13 and 14, said Ron Edgar, chief of technical services at the Spokane County Air Pollution Authority. In September, family members said Mason's death was most likely caused by an adverse reaction to competing medications for asthma and bronchitis.