EPA Says Yellow River Now Safe, But Still Wants Control

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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A Colorado town voted Monday for more Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) involvement in the Gold King Mine disaster, even though the nearby Animas River – which was flooded with three million gallons of wastewater last August – has been declared safe.

The river turned yellow in August after an EPA contractor accidentally unleashed toxic waste from Colorado’s Gold King Mine, poisoning drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation.

The EPA subsequently declared the Animas River safe for humans, agriculture and wildlife, though long-term effects are unknown but “promising,” according to the agency. The agency also set up treatment ponds at the mine’s entrance.

“The EPA is confident that the Animas and San Juan rivers are safe for agricultural use and long-term recreational exposure,” an agency spokeswoman who asked not to be named told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s because water sampling has shown that both the Animas and San Juan Rivers have returned to the same condition they were in before the [toxic] release.”

In fact, the volume of metals spilled – many of which were dangerous to humans – “was similar to one day of high spring runoff,” according to an EPA draft report awaiting peer review.

Officials in Silverton, Colo. – a town nine miles downstream of the spill – unanimously voted to request that the Gold King Mine and 47 other mines in the surrounding area be placed on the EPA’s superfund list.

“EPA’s superfund program is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters,” the agency’s website says. “It allows the EPA to clean up such sites and to compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups.”

Silverton officials were concerned that other towns affected by the Gold King Mine spill would ultimately force a superfund designation. The town can at least have more say in how the superfund project is carried out by agreeing to a resolution with the EPA, officials said.

The town has resisted EPA pressure to designate the area as as a superfund site since the 1990s. Local critics previously rejected superfund proposals, fearing the designation would hurt tourism and property values, Colorado Public Radio reported.

“While the Animas and San Juan rivers returned to pre-release conditions downstream, there are still significant metal loadings from numerous mining sources in the Upper Animas mining district,” the EPA spokeswoman told TheDCNF.

“Historically, the Animas River has an elevated ‘normal’ (pre-event) level of metals independent of the Gold King Mine release, due to the constant supply of acid mine drainage into the river from many sources. There are literally hundreds of old mines, ore processing locations and other places where acid mine drainage containing metals enters small streams and creeks that ultimately enter the Animas River.”

The EPA previously pushed for a superfund designation to combat acid runoff from other nearby mines, which has been detrimental to the Animas River’s fish populations, according to the agency.

Contaminants from the mine “impact fisheries that are harvest for human consumption,” EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath wrote in a letter to democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — McGrath said nothing about human health effects.

Additionally, the New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn claimed the EPA was downplaying the Animas River’s health, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats killed a bill that would make it easier for the state to sue the EPA, TheDCNF previously reported. Colorado is the only state affected by the Gold King Mine spill not considering litigation against the agency.

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