The Environmental Protection Agency "accidentally" released about 3 million gallons of pollutants into the Animas River near Durango, Colorado last week, turning the typically blue water to the color of mustard.
They accidentally breached a debris dam that had formed inside the mine and this triggered the release of the waste.
Officials said they believe the spill carried metals, mainly iron, zinc and copper, into a creek that feeds into the Animas.
Wednesday's spill caused a spike in concentrations of total and dissolved metals in the water, the EPA said. It's unclear exactly what effect that will have.
Toxic waste, including arsenic and lead, which seeped into a river in southwest Colorado, has now crossed the state border into New Mexico. More than 550 gallons per minute are entering the water flow system according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which caused the spill.
The agency says it should have the results of samples undergoing lab testing soon, so they can find out just how contaminated the river has become. Aside from lead and arsenic, federal officials say the spill also contains, cadmium, aluminum, copper and calcium.
“The sediment, the metals that are in that sediment are going to settle out to the stream bottom," Environmental Protection Agency Regional Director Shaun McGrath said, as cited by AP. "As we have storm surges, as we have flooding events, that sediment can and likely will get kicked back up into the water. We're going to have to do ongoing monitoring," McGrath added.
High levels of arsenic can cause blindness, paralysis and cancer, while lead poisoning can create muscle and vision problems in adults and can be fatal for children.
Local communities in both states are not happy and have blasted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for being slow in warning residents after the spill took place.
Officials in the cities of Aztec and Farmington say they have shut down the river’s access to water treatment plants, adding that the communities had a 90-day supply of water.
The Animas flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico, and the San Juan flows into Utah, where it joins the Colorado River in Lake Powell.
THIS IS JUST ONE OF THOUSANDS OF SIMILAR INCIDENTS WE'VE ALL READ ABOUT OVER THE PAST SEVERAL DECADES, BUT IT IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF HOW INDUSTRY CAN GET AWAY WITH MURDER WHILE AVERAGE CITIZEN IS OFTEN FINED AND/OR IMPRISONED FOR DOING THE EXACT SAME THING.
WHAT APPLIES TO AVERAGE CITIZEN MUST BE MADE TO APPLY TO INDUSTRY!
Instead of entering the mine and beginning the process of pumping and treating the contaminated water inside as planned, the team accidentally caused it to flow into the nearby Animas.
SEVERAL INCREDIBLE THINGS ABOUT THIS LATEST STORY OUT OF THAT POLLUTED REGION.
~ IT'S NOT THE FIRST TIME.
PRIOR TO LAST WEEK'S BLUNDER, 15 YEARS AGO, OWNERS OF THE RED AND BONITA MINE WERE FOLLOWING, SORT OF, THE EPA'S RECOMMENDATION TO PLUG ENTRANCE TO THAT ABANDONED MINE, THE PLUG BROKE AND 500 MILLION GALLONS OF THE SAME KIND OF CONTAMINANT REACHED THE CEMENT CREEK BELOW THE BREAK.
~ LOCALS HAVE LONG FOUGHT AGAINST THE ANIMAS RIVER AND TRIBUTARIES BEING DECLARED A "SUPERFUND" SITE BY THE EPA.
IT SEEMS THEY DON'T WANT THE EPA LEVYING FINES AGAINST ANYONE AND FORCING PAYMENT FOR THE CLEANUP.
RESIDENTS WHO HAVE OPPOSED THE EPA CLEANUP SEEM TO HOLD OUT HOPE THAT THE OLD GOLD MINES WILL REOPEN AND BRING BACK A BOOMING ECONOMY TO THE REGION.
THE MINING CONGLOMERATE WHICH APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN THE CAUSE OF SUCH AN ENVIRONMENTAL MESS INITIALLY KEEPS DANGLING THE PROVERBIAL CARROT BEFORE LOCALS' NOSES.
IF THE MINE OPERATORS HAVE TO PAY FOR CLEANUP, MINES MIGHT NEVER REOPEN THERE SEEMS TO BE THE TRICK THEY'RE USING TO NOT HAVE TO CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES.
WHAT IS UNBELIEVABLE IS THAT THE EPA HAS ALLOWED THE POLLUTION TO CONTINUE FOR DECADES!
AND RESIDENTS WANT 'MORE POLLUTION, YES, PLEASE'?
AS WE SAW EARLIER, CEMENT CREEK, A TRIBUTARY TO THE ANIMAS RIVER, EXPERIENCED THIS EXACT SCENARIO YEARS AGO.
"The stream of heavy-metal pollutants gushing out of Silverton’s mines and into its waterways has grown so toxic that between 2005 and 2010, three out of the four trout species living in the Upper Animas River south of Silverton have disappeared.
HIGH COUNTRY NEWS ELABORATED ON THE SITUATION AND EXPLAINED MUCH.
"Miners started going after the minerals in the 1870s, and the river's been the victim of their pollution ever since. Mines simply poured their tailings directly into the creeks and rivers until, in the 1930s, downstream farmers got them to stop; the remnants of those releases can still be found under the river bed in Durango and beyond.
Then there's acid mine drainage. The portals and shafts blasted into the mountainsides hijack the natural hydrology, pulling water flowing through fractures toward natural springs into the mine tunnels. There, the water reacts with iron disulfide (pyrite) and oxygen to form sulfuric acid. The acidic water dissolves naturally occurring heavy metals such as zinc, lead, cadmium, copper and aluminum. The resulting contaminated water flows out of the mine adit as if from a spring. By 1991, when the last major mine in the watershed shut down, there were some 400 mines in the watershed, many discharging unmitigated discharges into streams.
Not a fish could be found for miles downstream from Silverton, and the impacts to aquatic life were felt in Durango, where, when the mines were still running, sensitive fish were unable to reproduce.
As mining waned in the late 1980s, federal and state regulatory agencies started looking at how to clean up the mess. Superfund, which comes with a big pile of cash, seemed like the obvious approach. But locals feared that the stigma would destroy tourism along with any possibility of mining’s return.
: In 1991, the last big mine in the region, the Sunnyside, shut down. Its owner, Sunnyside Gold Corp., planned to plug the American Tunnel, thus stanching the flow of acid mine drainage (which it ran through a water treatment plant), and then walk away. The state wouldn’t allow it: While a plug, or bulkhead, would be a short-term fix, in the long-term the water, and its contaminants, might back up in the mine and find another way to the surface.
Sunnyside cut a deal with the state and Gold King mining, a small operation owned by a Silvertonian. Sunnyside would leave, and turn over its water treatment operations to Gold King, along with enough cash to keep it running for a while. Gold King hoped to eventually resume mining the Gold King (not far from the American Tunnel). For decades, the Gold King, like the nearby Red and Bonita mine, had not discharged any water. But not long after Sunnyside sealed its bulkheads, water started pouring out of all of them. "It was not a coincidence," says Peter Butler, ARSG co-coordinator. The backed up water had found natural fractures to follow into the other mines. Together, the Gold King and Red and Bonita would become some of the biggest polluters in the basin. Initially, their waters were run through the treatment plant that Sunnyside had left behind.
But before long, Gold King ran into technical, financial and legal troubles and the treatment plant stopped operating. Water quality for miles downstream once again deteriorated. The fish that had returned to the Animas below Silverton were wiped out.
THE LESSON HERE IS THAT WE MIGHT SAY MONEY ONCE AGAIN TRUMPS HUMAN HEALTH AND THE LAND ON WHICH HUMANS LIVE, THE CREEKS, RIVERS, OCEANS, MOUNTAINS, FORESTS AND ALL THAT DEPEND ON THEM FOR LIFE ARE PLACED A RUNG OR TWO BELOW PROFITS, A FEW JOBS, THE VALUE OF PROPERTY, AND KEEPING INDUSTRY HAPPY.
MAYBE SOMEDAY THAT WILL CHANGE, BUT MY GUESS IS THAT, NOT EVEN WITH THAT LAST DYING BREATH, WILL MOST PEOPLE EVER VALUE LIFE ABOVE MONEY.
WE'LL ALLOW AND EXCUSE AND TOLERATE ANY AND ALL SUCH INCIDENTS IN THE NAME OF A "HEALTHY ECONOMY", NOT ONCE IMAGINING THAT WE TRULY NEED MUCH LESS THAN WE WANT, NOR FINDING ALTERNATIVES TO ALL THAT CURRENTLY POISONS OUR WORLD.
THE TEA ROOM MAKES NO APOLOGIES FOR LOOKING BACK 500 YEARS OR SO AND SEEING A MUCH BETTER WORLD.