Leaded Waters: A History of Mining Pollution on the Coeur D'Alene River in Idaho 1900-1950

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Todd Shallat


Glen Barrett


Merle Wells


This study examines the first half-century of mining pollution on the Coeur d'Alene River in Idaho, from approximately 1900 to 1950. Four aspects of the issue are explored: pollution lawsuits (1903-1930) inaugurated by valley ranchers against the mines, a political controversy and scientific investigations in the 1930s, and the district's relationship with the growing federal authority concerning public health.

The Coeur d'Alene mine operators considered pollution abatement an unnecessary cost and only reacted to threats posed by legal action, public opinion, or government regulation. The industry flushed the residue of metal recovery down a tributary of the state's second largest lake--a practice considered an unfortunate but necessary function of business. Despite strict pollution controls in the 1960s and 70s, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 9,500 pounds of zinc, 540 pounds of lead, 125 pounds of arsenic, and 23,000 pounds of suspended solids entered the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River on a daily basis. In 1983 the EPA designated twenty-one square miles surrounding the Bunker Hill Mine as a Superfund cleanup site. With that designation, this problem, long considered a local nuisance, became a national priority.

This document is currently not available here.

Files over 30MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."