The Legacy of the Bunker Hill Mine

Posted July 16, 2009 in Mining Labor History

Within the unsealed documents was found a two-page memo in which the vice president of Gulf Resources and Chemical Corp. (the company that owned Bunker Hill at that time) calculated an estimation on how much Gulf would have to pay if it continued to expose children to lead emissions rather than shut down the smelter and repair the baghouse. His estimate came to $6 to $7 million for poisoning 500 children. He also examined the possibility of discrediting the doctors who warned of the dangers of lead poisoning. At the time, prices for lead ore were high, so Gulf decided that the profits were far greater than the "costs" of poisoning children. That year Gulf raked in $25.9 million from lead ore. Some of the costs to the workers and community included:

  • 1. The lead pollution was so bad that the State of Idaho was measuring it by tons per square mile. A reading in Kellogg showed in excess of 30 tons of lead per square mile in the year after the fire. Smelterville was put at 25 tons per square mile. "I had pictures I took at 2 p.m.," Bill Yoss said. "it was so dark you had to have your headlights on." The residents of these communities were exposed to mega-doses of lead greater than any other community anywhere else in the world throughout history.
  • 2. The hazardous threshold of lead, back then, was 1,000 parts per million. Sediments along the river bank were measured at 40,000 to 50,000 parts per million. And by 1987, when they were finally measured, 75 percent of the yards in Kellogg and 81 percent of the yards in Smelterville exceeded safe levels.
  • 3. In a study of workers who had worked at the smelter between 1940 and 1965, found that deaths from kidney disease was four times higher than expected based on U.S. death rates. Deaths from kidney cancer were nearly double, and deaths from strokes were one-and-a-half times higher than expected. After the fire 56% of Bunker Hill workers have come down with kidney disease, including myself. It was not until the 1990s that this information was made public. Kidney disease takes a while to hit you after your exposure. Many workers, like myself moved on to other jobs, and thus cannot prove that their illness was caused by exposure to lead at Bunker Hill. They cannot even prove that it is job related. Thus, the figure of 56% has to be a low figure. How they came up with that figure was to track workers by their Social Security numbers and records, medical claims and the National Death Index. How many workers like me that are not included in that 56% no one will ever know. Maybe I will be included when I die. Like many other workers, working with the pain of kidney disease is hard. I had to quit my last job because of it. I have no medical coverage, no on going medical treatment, I keep myself going with roots, herbal teas, lots of cranberry juice and pain killers that I have to go up to Canada to get. Even as I write these words, I am struggling with pain to do so. Even the workers who stayed at Bunker Hill lost their medical insurance because Gulf went bankrupted.
  • 4. Over 5,000 people have been exposed to the lead fallout. In 1974 the Center for Disease Control tested children for blood lead levels and found that all the children living in Smelterville had unsafe levels, as did 99 percent of children in Kellogg and 93 percent of children in Pinehurst. This came to nearly 600 children known to have been poisoned by corporate greed at that time that was documented by the government. No one knows how many other children in the area were poisoned. The government left it at that and did nothing until 1980, six years later, when they found that 75 percent of the preschool children (not even having been born yet at the time of the great exposure) were poisoned. No follow-up studies were done to see if this was a continuing tread, to determine the long-lasting health effects on the children known to be poisoned, and no testing was done on the adults. Again this information was not released until years later, and nothing was done to stop the continuing poisoning of children. It was not until 1994 that another test was done on children, and it found one-fifth of the children had blood-lead levels greater than the harmful level.

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Related Towns:

Kellogg Wallace

Did You Know.......

A mine is a hole in the ground, owned by a liar.
-Mark Twain


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