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Massive EPA Spill Sends Mine Waste Into Colorado River, Turning It Orange


Massive EPA Spill Sends Mine Waste Into Colorado River, Turning It Orange

Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Workers with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled roughly one million gallons of mine waste into a Colorado creek on Wednesday, turning the nearby Animas River bright orange and prompting criticism from environmental groups over the government's lackluster response to the accident.

EPA officials on Thursday confirmed that the leak was caused by its own employees, who had been using heavy machinery to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine, an abandoned site north of Silverton.


No mention of this spill continuing through NM around Farmington. New Mexico matters, too! EPA has poisoned all the fish in the river for many miles. While the water for drinking from the river has been shut off, it will damage wild life and possibly other animals and plants. It may also seep into the wells that people drink from all down the area it passes through. The lack of care of the EPA in causing this spill and their cavalier comments about it sound just like the mining industry. Who is it that the EPA serves is a serious question.


This article provides more questions than answers. What exactly is an EPA person (presumably an engineer of some sort) doing operating a “heavy machinery”? So is it really a careless contractor of the EPA that caused the release? What did the operator do? Breach a dam or pond? Dig into a pipe? Doesn’t Colorado have an abandoned mine land program which this work should be done under?


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“Contractor”; that brings up a very interesting question. As events unfold, possibly an answer will be required.


Is there much water anywhere on Earth that’s clean enough to swim in, let alone drink?


OMG !!! The stewards of our environment???


See, Republicans are right. We need to abolish the EPA. That is unless the contractor was a Republican, purposefully trying to undermine the EPA…


It is all part of the “New Normal”. I used to work for EPA in San Francisco and I am ashamed of my former agency for this. Why are there no specifics as to why they could have been responsible?


“…using heavy machinery to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine, an abandoned site north of Silverton.” Would it not have more prudent or efficient to take samples of the water by a human walking under his own power to the edge of the containment area or were they afraid of their own contamination? Any number of the known chemicals in the polluted water are toxic if ingested by humans, fish, animals, mollusks, crane/dragon flies (water insects of all kinds), especially in the high concentrations existing in that water. Selenium in and of itself can cause death if ingested in large amounts. Who knows how much of the chemicals penetrate the skin and poison the victim(s)?

The statement by the EPA is no different than the fallacious press releases created by offending corporate PR divisions: “The agency said impacts on wildlife and the environment in the area would likely be minimal.” How can they say that when THEY THEMSELVES DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS IN THE WATER AND AT WHAT CONCENTRATIONS, which is why they were supposedly testing the water. Common sense would lead one to believe that the water was extremely toxic, especially when considering the extraction/mining practices during the period in which the ore was mined and processed for shipment.

So much for regulatory oversight. One of the first agencies to be assaulted and reduced to minimal operations (reduced funding, eliminating personnel, etc.) by Reagan was the EPA…in fact, he wanted to abolish it entirely. His successor, GHWB and then his spawn, GWB also did their damnedest to hamstring the agency in order to take the monkey off the backs of the corporate polluters. Add to these facts that the resulting rapid increase and ongoing new discoveries of SuperFund and other toxic waste sites (and the massive increase in the number of toxic waste incinerators across the nation) and you have a perfect storm of environmental devastation.

What is left unsaid by the EPA is that they contracted another private party (probably the lowest bidder for the contract) to do the work, which almost NEVER turns out well.

Will it never end?


OK, I got more details.

It is a long-closed abandoned and un-reclaimed underground gold mine - the mine drift portal left wide open. Under some kind of abandoned mine land program, the EPA was investigating cleanup methods, and doing some preliminary reclamation, so they decided to plug the portal with a makeshift plug bulldozed dirt and rock as a safety measure to prevent curious intruders from entering. Either nobody noticed that acid drainage was coming our of the portal or didn’t care, so once plugged, a large amount of acid water backed up behind the plug, so when they tried to remove the plug - or perhaps the plug simply blew out, and a great gush of nasty acid and dissolved metal laden water was released. This sometimes happens at old plugged coal mine portals in my area if we have a particularly wet spring. It may look ugly, but the pollution will clear up fast and the aquatic life is protected up the tributaries and re-establishes itself pretty quickly after the pollutant passes.

The only fix is acid treatment ponds that pass the mine effluent over limestone gravel beds or fine lime is mixed in and the metals precipitate out in a second pond. The experience here in W. Pennsylvania is that acid mine drainage continues basically forever - for a few thousand years anyway - and so the treatment must planned as something to be done forever.

But hey, mining is the biggest part of the whole historical romance of Colorado - a brewery there even brews a beer called “Tommyknocker”.


Apparently it was an accident - part of a cleanup/reclamation effort that apparent was either ill-conceived or the oversight of the contractor’s work was very poor - probably due to a very low budget for the project. See my comment below.


With the plethora of abandoned mines in northwestern Colorado (Leadville comes to mind), people began to realize that there were no fish or other life in the rivers and streams downstream from mines. It is only in the last decade or so that efforts have been made in the state to clean up the sites in part, by planting native plant species and trees on the piles to prevent drainage from rain/water runoff into the rivers and streams, which all mines in the area had to have to operate. Many mines that were initially created to extract gold and silver were closed when prices fell or the mine panned out of those minerals. When the mining concerns realized (due to market demands) that these mines may also contain other minerals they could profit from: Zinc, lead, cadmium, etc., they were reopened…speaking of Colorado in this sense. Driving the two-lane winding mountain roads in the region one can see numerous abandoned mining sites. To some they look nostalgic and to others they are ominous in that they surely are environmentally and ecologically “unhealthy” sites to put it mildly (disastrous is perhaps a more apt adjective).

“It may look ugly, but the pollution will clear up fast and the aquatic life is protected up the tributaries and re-establishes itself pretty quickly after the pollutant passes.” Heavy metals do not 'pass," they sink and remain unless physically removed.


A down stream, back-up settling pond might have been A consideration as the only place for an accidental run-off was this river- Settling ponds are usually if not always A requirement these days- I know it was in my gold mining days in Alaska-


Interesting how the rock in the photo accompanying the article looks like a river god/spirit crying out in agony! The “Animas” river is the river of “souls.” How prophetic.


You mean like the ponds full of poisonous water that are simply ponds created by bulldozing earth dams in a rectangular shape with no other fortification (leakage is the rule rather than the exception) that populate the massive tar sands extraction areas in Alberta and wherever else they plan to expand the desecration of the land, people, wildlife, flora, rivers for the sake of profits? Oh, yeah, they have halted expansion because the price of oil has been dropping. Silly me.


“Agency calls leak ‘unexpected’”

Good grief – I should hope so.


NO-That is not what I mean at all Seatower-
The ponds I am speaking of were mainly to stop stream “turbidity” and allowed natural sediments (muddy water) to settle out-
I would think A settling pond under these circumstances would need A containment lining-Of course then where do you go from there- I am almost thinking this situation resulted in an abandoned site from the years where there were no safeguards what-so-ever…
This all brings to mind A place where I commercial fished in my youth-Bristol Bay- The Canadian outfit that is chomping at the bit to mine and extract Gold (Pebble MIne) from the headwaters of the huge river system that feeds that Bay and where about maybe 80% of the worlds salmon go to spawn- It would be A humongous operation, much like the Tar Sands Nightmare- Cyanide Leaching and the disturbance/Destruction of HUGE areas for fine particle gold- This project must NEVER be allowed to happen!
My comment was not in any way A solution, just maybe it would have bought time for mitigation…


Sounds like they called Frank Luntz for the right “catch phrase” to buy time for their fuck-up…


Well said, Stubones49! Thank you :blush: