California's Toxic Trails

California's mining legacy leaves arsenic, lead, and asbestos in thousands of trails

State parks in California have been threatening to close for lack of funds for years now, which is a huge bummer for your future weekends—but maybe it's not so bad for your health. Recent soil tests on trails near mine shafts in the Sierra foothills reveal dangerously high levels of arsenic, asbestos, and lead left over from the Gold Rush; when kicked up as dust particles, it's possible for hikers, bikers, and other trail users to absorb these nasty carcinogens.

Environmental advocacy group the Sierra Fund limited their research to 11 trails near Foresthill, Downieville, and Nevada City, but California's 47,000 abandoned mine shafts portend similar results elsewhere. Soil samples in one test area showed lead levels 18 times higher than state and federals standards, and 40 percent of soil samples showed asbestos contamination.

In 2008, the federal government tasked the Bureau of Land Management with cleaning trails or erecting barriers, but that's easier said than done. California got $20 million from Obama's stimulus package earmarked specifically for abandoned mine cleanup, but the combination of steam cleaning and cementing over toxic sites means actually finishing the job could be much more expensive.

In the meantime, I guess you could always hike in a hazmat suit. They even make them with Gore-Tex now. How convenient.

—Ted Alvarez

via SF Gate

image credit: alphatangobravo