Assessing the Impacts of Volcanic Rock Mining on Rural Communities

Clark County, Washington

Featured image for the project, Assessing the Impacts of Volcanic Rock Mining on Rural Communities

Yacolt Mountain Quarry Aerial View, Photo by The Columbian

Description

Clark County is a county in the southwest corner of Washington State with the Columbia River defining its southern and western borders. Outside of its most populous area of Vancouver, WA, majority of the county is rural and forested. Nested between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Coast, the East Fork of the Lewis River, a tributary to the Columbia, cuts through the northern part of the county and provides cold water habitat for endangered Pacific salmonids. Community members describe their home as beautiful and note that their rural lifestyle provides both privacy, a quiet retreat, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Over the past five years, community members have voiced concerns about the environmental and health impacts from nearby Yacolt Mountain Quarry, where volcanic rock is mined and crushed into gravel and other aggregate. Approximately 1,300 homes are located within 2 miles of the quarry and have complained of loud blasts rattling their homes. Dust and noise generated from the mining operations and truck travel disturbs residents on a daily basis. Residents are also concerned about the impact of the mining on the local aquifer which supplies drinking water and the health of critical salmonid streams. There is a general concern about the impact of the mining operations on drinking water supplies. Dust settles out in people’s homes and there is increased concern over the risk of landslides from the operations. The 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people in Oso, WA remains fresh in people’s memories.

In December 2018, the Clark County Council approved the expansion of the mine to the south to store overburden. Concerns over the quarry’s impacts have only deepened and residents have organized to focus more attention on the issue. An analysis of dust collected inside a home in Battle Ground, WA found dust particles with characteristics similar to Woolly Erionite, a naturally occurring asbestos. When airborne, Woolly Erionite can be inhaled where the fibers become lodged in the lungs, causing respiratory, cardiovascular and increased cancer risk. Residents are concerned that the Woolly Erionite may be associated with the mining activity.

The recently established East Fork Community Coalition (EFCC) is dedicated to protecting families and homes along the East Fork of the Lewis River. They do this by sharing information and communicating concerns about issues facing the area. EFCC’s goal for this project is to gain new information about the impacts that the Quarry is having on the environment and residents in the area. This includes understanding the composition and source of the dust that settles out, how the dust is generated, the risks of continued mining to drinking water, and the potential for landslides.

The first priority for this project will be to engage with a scientist to further understand the composition and source of the dust. Other priorities will addressed in later phases of the project.

Project Impacts: Beneficiaries include community members of all ages who reside near the quarry as well as the natural resources and assets across the landscape. Health risks will be lowered, and the expectation is that the community will know how to mitigate exposure to any risks that the quarry operations may pose. By bringing the community together around a common goal, the community leaders will be able to bring the needs of this community to the forefront of policy- and decision-makers.

Project Outputs:

Outputs include:

  • Maps (spatial representation of environmental data)
  • Reports (to be used in negotiating with local politicians)
  • Educational materials to be used in the community

 

About the Community

Dick Leeuwenburg is the president of the East Fork Community Coalition (EFCC), a newly formed group of concerned citizens dedicated to protecting families and homes surrounding the East Fork of the Lewis River. They accomplish this by sharing information and communicating concerns as they occur in the area. Dick will serve as the main point of contact on the project.

Marie Ogier, a board member for EFCC, will support Dick on this Thriving Earth Exchange project.

As the community leads, Dick and Marie commit to serving as the liaisons between the scientist(s) and collection sites. They will help facilitate access to data collection and assist in overcoming local/political/logistical hurdles as they arise.

Scientist Wanted

Dick and Marie seek a scientific partner to conduct water and dust testing over the duration of approximately 12 months. This will include periodic retesting where necessary, preparing maps and reports.

The scientist(s) should be within driving distance to the communities surrounding the East Fork of the Lewis River in Clark County.

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Timeline and Outcome

Work will begin as soon as possible (June 2019) and conclude 12 months later. Sampling and testing will take place across the initial 9 months, with the last 3 months devoted to producing maps and reports with the community.

Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in mining geology, engineering and/or environmental chemistry
  • Experience with scientific sampling and study design strongly preferred
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology for a lay audience
  • Adept problem-solver and able to effectively convey results in written form
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person and able to observe the neighborhood with community leaders