Gold King Mine Spills Toxic Waste

Animas River Aug. 6, 2015 (Photo: Jerry McBride, AP)

Animas River Aug. 6, 2015
(Photo: Jerry McBride, AP)

This past Wednesday, a team of EPA employees entered the Gold King Mine near Durango Colorado. According to CNN, instead of pumping and treating the wastewater within the mine, the EPA team accidentally released the contaminated water into the Animas River. As of Monday, the mine had released an estimated 3 million gallons and continued to discharge at a rate of 500 gallons per minute.  The EPA waited almost a day to report the spill.

The Animas River, turned a bright yellow mustard color, has been flooded with heavy metals. NPR member station KUNC confirmed that lead concentrations had spiked over 3,500 times historic levels. Additionally, test results have shown significant increases in arsenic levels and have also detected mercury, zinc and iron in the water. KUNC reports that this is the largest untreated mine drainage in the state.

Beginning at the Gold King Mine, the wastewater spilled into the Animas River and has entered into the San Juan River in New Mexico. Optimistically, the plume will disperse once it enters Lake Powell.  The National Park Service has stated, “Most river sediments will settle out of the water when the river current slows at Lake Powell.”

Expected flow of contaminated water. (Map Credit: Banks Environmental Data)

Expected flow of contaminated water
(Map: Banks Environmental Data)

Officials are advising residents that rely on well water to have it tested before cooking, drinking, or bathing. Farmers and ranchers have been directed to avoid using the contaminated water for livestock or irrigation purposes. Local officials have been hosting daily meetings to update the public as events progress.

Ian Holt
Water Well Department Manager

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