Energy

Congress Investigates EPA’s Toxic Wastewater Spill

REUTERS/Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department/Handout

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

The EPA accidentally spilled millions of gallons of toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine in Colorado’s Animas River, and a top Republican lawmaker wants  answers on just how bad the situation on the ground has become.

“It has been five days since the spill and the EPA has failed to answer important questions, including whether the polluted water poses health risks to humans or animals,” Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House science committee, wrote in a letter to the EPA. “It is concerning that the agency charged with ensuring that the nation’s waters are clean is reportedly responsible for the toxic water spill at Gold King Mine.”

Last week, the EPA was working to plug abandoned mines in southern Colorado, but disaster struck when wastewater burst from the Gold King Mine and contaminated the Animas River with 3 million gallons of mining waste — which included high levels of arsenic, lead, copper and cadmium. The river turned a bright orange color and Colorado’s governor declared a state of emergency in the region.

Contaminants from EPA’s spill initially broke state water quality limits, according to the Denver Post, and the agency has warned farmers in the area to stop irrigating water from the river. Smith is asking the EPA to brief him on the situation, give him the results of water tests and provide lawmakers with weekly updates on the clean up. The EPA is providing bottled water for local residents.

“A spill of this magnitude could be devastating for the families who live nearby and depend on the Animas River in their daily lives,” Smith wrote to the EPA. “It is imperative that the EPA quickly take steps to repair the damage from this spill.  Moreover, it is vitally important that the EPA learn why this happened and what the agency can do to prevent this from ever occurring again.”

State officials are furious with the EPA over the spill, as locals worry that tourism to the region will be impacted because of fears over water contamination.

“It is not just a scenic destination,” Republican State Senator Ellen Roberts, who lives near the river, told The New York Times. “It is where people literally raise their children. It is where the farmers and ranchers feed their livestock, which in turn feeds the people. We’re isolated from Denver through the mountains, and we are pretty resourceful people. But if you take away our water supply, we’re left with virtually no way to move forward.”

For years, the Gold King mine has leaked toxic mine waste, and the EPA planned on plugging up the problem once and for all. But instead workers accidentally set loose a deluge of wastewater — much more than the agency anticipated. The New York Times reported that the “spill was probably the fault of another mine company … that had built retention walls inside an abandoned mine near the Gold King, part of an old cleanup agreement with the federal government.”

“Once the Sunnyside mine filled with wastewater, the water probably spilled into the Gold King, and then into the Animas,” according to the Times.

The spill ironically comes about three months after the EPA finalized a rule that would increase its authority to regulate U.S. bodies of water — one of the most contentious rules it’s ever proposed.

The EPA did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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