SELC holds quartz mine accountable for pollution to trout stream

Rivers in western North Carolina like the one pictured above are under increasing pressure as demand for the area’s quartz, which is extracted using open-pit mining, increases. (© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Western North Carolina’s North Toe River will run clearer thanks to a settlement recently reached over water quality permits for a quartz mine expansion.

Quartz is extracted through open-pit mining and The Quartz Corporation’s existing mine near the town of Spruce Pine has heavily impacted scenic trout streams in the North Toe River watershed. After reviewing a water quality certification issued to the company for a planned expansion of its Pine Mountain Mine, SELC uncovered several concerns and filed a challenge.

Rather than remediating impacted streams at the site, the mine operator, the town of Spruce Pine, and the environmental consultant proposed to compensate for those impacts by “preserving” the watershed that supplies the town’s drinking water, using a shell game of land transactions to hide the fact that the watershed was already fully protected. In response to comments submitted by SELC, the federal permitting agency rejected this sham mitigation proposal. 

Second, and even more concerning, The Quartz Corporation attempted to paper over an illegal waste dump, which is a serious Clean Water Act violation. In response to a lawsuit filed by SELC, the company agreed to a settlement that included additional mitigation for the illegal dumping and stringent monitoring, including on-site sampling by the French Broad Riverkeeper, to ensure that TQC meets its obligations to protect water quality.

North Carolina’s mountains are under increasing pressure to supply quartz and other minerals for the global high-tech industry. The mountains near Spruce Pine contain exceptionally pure quartz and, according to industry sources, the Spruce Pine Mining District in western North Carolina supplies 90 percent of the world’s high-purity quartz for use in high-tech industries.

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