Bunker Hill Superfund Site is Still a Toxic Mess, with Legacy of Suffering
“This place stunk so bad,” says Paul Flory, “and you had that metal taste in your teeth.”
Flory was born in 1970 and grew up in the same part of the country he lives in today: the Coeur d’Alene River Basin of northern Idaho. Beginning in the 1880s and for more than a century, locals have mined this region—also called the Silver Valley—for its abundance of silver, lead and zinc. Some residents can trace their ancestors in the valley back six generations, and “Uncle Bunker”—Bunker Hill, the large mining complex there—was the hand that fed them through all those years.
But it was also slowly poisoning them. As a teenager in Kellogg, Idaho, Flory attended Silver King School, built in 1928 in the gulch between the Bunker Hill lead smelter and zinc plant. An offshoot of the Coeur d’Alene River flowed by the school; it was, says Flory, a “light, glowing green color”—sort of like a glow stick. In 1973, a fire broke out at Bunker Hill and destroyed part of the baghouse—the main pollution-control system for the lead smelter. For the next year and a half, the smelter continued to operate, and dust polluted with heavy metals rained down on the area.