Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manager overseeing the cleanup of the Anaconda Mine says he was illegally dismissed for pursuing worker safety, as well as radiation, air and water pollution violations, according to a legal complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
BLM Nevada Director Bob Abbey dismissed Earle Dixon, the Project Manager for the Anaconda Mine at Yerington, Nevada, from his position on October 5, after less than one year on the job. Abbey's notice of dismissal cited "efficiency of the service" and friction "with various constituencies." Dixon's complaint, however, details Abbey's unwillingness to confront mounting evidence of contamination and worker exposure. In his complaint, Dixon calls attention to a number of problems that were not addressed because they would drive up remediation costs –
- Radiation readings well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite;
- Higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells; and
- Non-compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including possible public exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air-borne dust.
"Earle Dixon's job was to solve the pollution problems, not disguise them," stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit whose organization will assist Dixon's lead counsel, Mick Harrison, in prosecuting the claim. "From this record, it appears BLM removed Earle Dixon simply because he did environmental compliance too well."
Dixon's job was to coordinate the hazardous waste management and compliance at the site with EPA, the State of Nevada, tribes and responsible private parties. The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid run-off and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other exposed metals have been disposed in unlined ponds. The mine has also had a succession of owners, including the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Today, half the site is located on public lands managed by the BLM.
Dixon filed a whistleblower complaint under several federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, Superfund, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The complaint triggers an immediate federal investigation and, if the matter is not resolved in 30 days, a full evidentiary hearing before a federal administrative law judge will be scheduled.
"We expect that Dixon's co-workers at BLM and colleagues from other federal and state agencies will be forthright about Dixon's efforts to secure environmental compliance at the site to protect workers and the public," Condit added. With Dixon's removal, oversight of the Anaconda Mine has been moved from the BLM Carson City Office to the BLM state headquarters in Reno. "Such a move is an unprecedented political intervention in a hazardous waste clean-up operation and reflects retaliatory motive by the BLM State Director," stated Mick Harrison.