From the Publisher September 2015
A cleanup crew from the EPA charged with the task of pumping and treating contaminated water in the abandoned Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado accidently broke through a dam, causing it to spew three million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River. The river, which flows for 126 miles and eventually makes its way into the Colorado River system, turned yellowish orange. Some of this contamination has flowed downstream to Aztec and Farmington, New Mexico.
The acidic heavy metals that flooded into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas, included arsenic, lead, copper and cadmium, and broke state water quality limits. The lead level in the Animas River was nearly 12,000 times higher than the acceptable level set by the EPA. An arsenic sample tested 26 times higher than the EPA acceptable level.
The EPA is collecting data on this disaster, and I believe we will see long-term monitoring. However, my concern is not so much as to what happens now, but the damage that won’t show up for years, even decades. Heavy metals are known to stick around, so it is possible they can get into the food chain, and you’ll see fish and wildlife die off.
What’s startling is that this time it’s the EPA that’s at fault; there’s an undeniable irony in this whole debacle. “It’s hard being on the other side of this, in terms of being the one who caused this incident,” David Ostrander, the EPA’s head of emergency management, told a crowd in Durango, Colorado. “We usually respond to emergencies, we don’t cause them.”
We, who are involved in stormwater solutions, understand that accidents do happen. We, more than many other people, understand the damage that can occur, and the economic costs involved. I know if the experts in our field are called upon, they stand ready to help.