Above. USGS personnel conducting suction dredge testing on the South Yuba River.
In a recently released report the US Geological Survey admitted the lead mercury researcher for the 2012 California dredging environmental study was a member of an environmental group which lobbied for the California suction dredging ban. This scientist was responsible for the desing, preparation and conduct of the single most important section of the environmental study which found suction dredges release harmful amounts of mercury. Miners have long claimed the study was based on poor science and indicated a strong bias towards environmentalist claims, and the new report confirms the miner's allegations.
Following a request for an investigation by the Western Mining Alliance (WMA), the Department of Interior released their final report looking into allegations of scientific misconduct by one of their scientists, Dr. Charles Alpers. The WMA challenged the findings of a 2011 report prepared by Dr. Charles Alpers, of the US Geological Survey (USGS), which concluded suction gold dredging equipment increased mercury levels in streams. The WMA alleged the scientist withheld five years of data and was also a member of an environmental group which was lobbying for a prohibition on suction dredging equipment.
The final report acknowledged Dr. Alpers was not only a member of the environmental group, The Sierra Fund (TSF), but was also on the Board of Advisors of TSF, a position which determined policy and strategy for the group.
The Sierra Fund, based in Nevada City, California, lobbied the California legislature for a permanent ban on suction dredging equipment citing the results of Alper's report as evidence there was a significant threat to the environment.
"There's just one problem," said Craig Lindsay, president of the WMA, "He claimed there was only one year of data available, but we did a Freedom of Information Act request and it turns out he deliberately withheld an additional five years of data. The inclusion of the additional data shows no linkage whatsoever, but shows a strong linkage to the size of the spring floods."
The controversy surrounding the use of suction gold mining equipment has led to a six year ban on the equipment while miners are challenging the ban in court. The miners won their first legal victory from a California Appeals Court in September and appear poised to win a second victory later this month, effectively overturning the ban.
"We were shocked by the deliberate withholding of the data." Said Lindsay. "That Alpers belonged to an environmental group which was lobbying for the ban seemed a little too convenient. The full data set shows no evidence of linkage. The data shows mercury levels in insects have increased significantly since the ban was imposed."
Despite his membership in the environmental group, and withholding the data the US Geological Survey investigation concluded there was no conflict of interest.
"Coordination with the USGS deputy ethics officer and deputy ethics counselor revealed that the research chemist's membership in TSF was authorized and complemented USGS interests." The investigation concluded. The report further justified Alper's actions by stating "There is a growing trend for people to file scientific integrity complaints in an effort to change legislative decisions they do not like."
"All we wanted was honest research," said Lindsay, "Three consecutive California Water Board studies over ten years have shown no linkage between California gold miners and increased mercury. The Alper's Report was a bit of an outlier to those studies which made us wonder why."
You can read the publically available USGS report at
USGS Ethics Investigation of Dr. Alpers