540 tons of metals entered river in 2015 Colorado mine spill, some into Lake Powell

The Animas River shortly after the toxic spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado, August, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Riverhugger via Wikipedia, St. George News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 540 tons of metals — mostly iron and aluminum — contaminated the Animas River over nine hours during a massive wastewater spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday in a new report on the 2015 blowout that turned rivers in three states a sickly yellow. Some of those metals have made their way into Lake Powell, a Utah spokesperson said.

FILE - In this file photo, Dan Bender, with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, takes a water sample from the Animas River near Durango, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a cleanup team was working with heavy equipment to secure an entrance to the Gold King Mine. Workers instead released an estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River. (Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP)
FILE – In this file photo, Dan Bender, with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, takes a water sample from the Animas River near Durango, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that a cleanup team was working with heavy equipment to secure an entrance to the Gold King Mine. Workers instead released an estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River. (Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP)

The total amount of metals entering the river system was comparable to levels during one or two days of high spring runoff, although the concentration of metals was significantly higher at the spill’s peak, the report said.

In February, the EPA estimated the amount of metals in the release at 440 tons. The agency said additional data and improved analysis resulted in the higher final estimate.

The EPA said its research supports earlier statements that water quality in the affected river system has returned to pre-spill levels.

An EPA-led contractor inadvertently triggered the 3-million-gallon spill while doing preliminary cleanup work at the old Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. The blowout affected rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The EPA said in its report that only 1 percent of the metals came from inside the mine, while 99 percent were “scoured” from waste piles on nearby hills and stream beds. The iron and aluminum reacted with the river water to cause the eye-catching mustard color that was visible for days as the plume traveled down the river system into Lake Powell, the EPA said.

FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo. The massive mine waste spill in southwestern Colorado contributed to water quality problems for up to nine months, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. Contamination from the August 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine may also have caused pollution problems last year when annual spring snowmelt swelled rivers. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)
FILE – In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo. The massive mine waste spill in southwestern Colorado contributed to water quality problems for up to nine months, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. Contamination from the August 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine may also have caused pollution problems last year when annual spring snowmelt swelled rivers. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)

Besides iron and aluminum, the spill released manganese, lead, copper, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and a small amount of mercury into the river, the EPA said.

The EPA said last month it will pay $4.5 million to state, local and tribal governments for their emergency responses, but the agency rejected $20.4 million in other requests for past and future expenses.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Butch Tongate accused the EPA of using the taxpayer-funded report to try to defend its actions. The state has sued the agency over the spill.

In Utah, state government spokeswoman Erica Brown Gaddis said the report shows the metals have moved into Lake Powell, a vast reservoir in her state, highlighting the need for broader research on the effects of wastewater draining from other inactive Colorado mines into the region’s rivers.

Colorado officials said they had no comment on the report.

Written by: MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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2 Comments

  • comments January 7, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Well they flopped that one didn’t they. Let’s disband all gov’t oversight and let mining operations “self regulate” bc we know we can always trust mining operations to do the right thing with their spotless reputations for environment and waterway protection

  • wilbur January 8, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Not a single EPA employee has been disciplined or fired for this environmental travesty.

    So what better way to deflect their obvious guilt than say “one percent” came out of the mine and “ninety-nine percent” came from “scoured waste piles”.

    Sorry, but the BS detector meter just pegged (over there in the corner of my screen) over this assertion.

    And people say FedGov is a better steward of the land than state or local agencies?

    Have a nice pipeline intake folks.

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