EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater August 5 as they inspected the idle Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. Water quality data show water meets criteria for agricultural purposes established by the state of Colorado. “We all live downstream, and we all benefit from having strong protections”.
“We take responsibility for the spill”, she wrote. It took the ham-fisted actions of EPA to literally poison the wells. “We’re going to see this through and get it right”.
That’s what the EPA was working to address last week, trying to clean up the mess the mining industry left behind long before the agency was created in 1970.
Two years ago, the state awarded a $1 million grant to a firm owned by Charles Medico to buy land near the borehole for a treatment plant. But at a news conference afterward, every question was about the mine spill.
4 days after the EPA-caused spill turned the water a mucky orange after which yellow, the company has been unable to find out whether or not people or aquatic life face well being dangers.
Meanwhile, untreated water remained off-limits to drinking.
Federal decision-makers should consider this damage as they decide whether to permit a host of massive mine projects around critical water bodies. The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015 (otherwise known as HR 963) could protect communities and precious water resources and help avert disasters.
As an environmentalist, I hear in this disaster an urgent wake-up call: It’s time to get serious about cleaning up abandoned mines and the risky pollution building up inside them. In their book “The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter” (Oxford University Press, 2010), folklorists Gary Alan Fine and Bill Ellis note that “Rumor fills several important roles for societies, and unraveling their meaning allows us to reveal social concerns”.
“In the coming weeks and months, the committee will be conducting extensive oversight over the causes and the short-term and long-term effects of this serious situation”, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said last week.
Dayton chairs the State Water Development Commission, which she’s convening next week to look into the Utah impacts of the Animas River spill.
To date, the bill has 26 cosponsors – all Democrats.
According to EPA monitoring, the Colorado spill generated unacceptably high concentrations of beryllium, lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper and zinc, among others.
“You can expect such failures like the one we had at Gold King”, Ron Cohen, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the Colorado School of Mines, told The Wall Street Journal. That has forced top administration officials off-message just as they were launching an effort to sell the new carbon rules to the American people.