It appears the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no plan to protect humans and wildlife if contaminates left behind after August’s Gold King Mine spill are stirred up and reach dangerous levels.
The EPA spilled 880,000 pounds of dangerous metal waste, including lead and arsenic, into the Animas River in August 2015 after it intentionally breached the Colorado mine. Most of those contaminates settled in river beds downstream, but storms with heavy rainfall can put water near dangerous levels.
The EPA will monitor affected rivers for a year after the spill, including during storms. But the agency declined in a 500-word email response to The Daily Caller News Foundation to describe how officials intend to protect humans and wildlife in the event of such contaminate spikes.
“Acid mine drainage has been released into the rivers for many decades and winter runoff and major storms may kick up material that had settled to the bottom of the rivers,” an agency spokeswoman told TheDCNF. “So those using the river for recreation, agriculture or drinking water should use the same precautions they always have.”
Farmington, New Mexico – one of the towns impacted by the spill – now cuts off its water supply from an affected river during storms to ensure resident safety. The EPA is also using a recreational standard, which allows 40 times more lead in the river, even though people in three states and the Navajo Nation depend upon it as a primary water source, New Mexico Environmental Secretary Ryan Flynn said in February.
One Colorado legislator even worried the river could turn yellow again when water levels rise from snowmelt, TheDCNF previously reported. Utah, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation – all affected by the spill – filed intents to sue the EPA.
“Historically, the Animas River has an elevated ‘normal’ (pre-event) level of metals independent of the Gold King Mine release, due to the constant supply of acid mine drainage into the river from many sources,” the EPA spokeswoman added.
Yet the spill released three million gallons of mine waste, including the 880,000 pounds of dangerous metal waste, into the Animas River over just a few hours during a time of year when water flow is typically low, TheDCNF previously reported.
The EPA appears to be simultaneously arguing two conflicting points: On the one hand, the agency claims the river is safe for humans.
“There may be occasions when the metal concentrations fluctuate from time to time because of water surges due to heavy rains or other events that may change the water flow rates or volume, but the river system as a whole is being maintained at pre-event conditions,” the EPA spokeswoman said.
On the other hand, agency officials recently proposed to make Gold King and 47 other mines a superfund site – a designation reserved for only the most polluted areas. Superfund designation will give the EPA additional control and funding.
Nearby residents resisted designating the area as a superfund site since the 1990s, but August’s EPA-caused disaster convinced them to reverse their position.