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Mercury Cleanup Begins In Central Oregon

<p>The Barnes Butte Area near Prineville is a popular destination for hiking, dog-walking, and horseback-riding.</p>

Courtesy Prineville BLM

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The Barnes Butte Area near Prineville is a popular destination for hiking, dog-walking, and horseback-riding.

Cleanup of a mercury-contaminated site began Monday on a Bureau of Land Management area in Central Oregon.

The Barnes Butte Area near Prineville will close for two weeks while crews work to remove mercury contamination from a 1940s mine site. The BLM area is a popular destination for hikers, dog walkers and and horse riders.

BLM field manager Susie Manezes said no one has ever complained to the BLM of health problems associated with the contaminated area. But the high mercury levels aren't safe.

"Although the site was only mined for a short period of time, the 'leftovers' of the mining process are still with us today," Manezes said. "Spots with these tailings have higher than normal concentrations of mercury than are considered safe for humans and animals."

Mercury is found naturally in Central Oregon. But when it's mined, the metal is extracted through an intensive heat process that leaves behind higher-than-normal concentrations of mercury. The BLM recently received funding for the site clean-up at Barnes Butte.

The Barnes Butte area will be closed through June 19 for the clean-up.

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Amanda Peacher