Investigation shows EPA underestimated gold mine spill

August 31, 2015

An internal government investigation has just determined that both federal and state regulators underestimated the potential blowout from a Colorado gold mine which recently spilled over 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas and San Juan rivers. The sludge turned the waterways a yellow-orange color, and tainted the sources with lead, arsenic, thallium, and other heavy metals.

Before coming relatively under control, the stream of sludge managed to travel nearly 300 miles, affecting Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, and ultimately reaching the Arizona-Utah Lake Powell.

According to the EPA, water testing has shown contaminants returning to the same levels they were at before the spill, though it's likely that a large number of toxic substances merely sank to the bottom and mixed in the the river's sediment, meaning it would be possible to stir them back up and recontaminate the waterway in the future. 

While the toxins continue to flow out of the mine, the EPA has constructed a series of ponds to sift out contaminated sediments before it makes its way to a nearby creek. According to the Associated Press, EPA managers knew that a large spill was possible, yet despite that, they had only drawn up a rough response plan in the event a spill happened.

Elected officials and residents have all been highly critical of the EPA's response to the situation, especially towards the fact that it took the agency almost an entire day to inform communities downstream of the spill that the water they use in their daily lives could be polluted.

Because of how rapidly they can change, staying on top of and following EPA regulations and policies can be difficult and time consuming. Hiring environmental consultants can help you better understand the latest government trends and regulations, and find quick, cost effective ways to meet them.