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Cleaning EPA’s Gold King Mine Mess Could Take DECADES

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have no idea how long cleaning up Colorado’s Gold King Mine and 47 other nearby mines will take or how much it will cost, but history shows it could take years, or even decades.

The EPA recently proposed to make the region – where the agency spilled 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals like lead and arsenic into the Animas River – a superfund site. That designation would prioritize cleaning, open additional funding and give greater EPA control.

Yet, that designation also likely means years of waiting before cleaning even begins. The EPA has no estimate how long cleaning Gold King Mine could take or even when it would begin.

“Prior to completing a remedial investigation and feasibility study, EPA will not know what the site’s cleanup scope will be, and, therefore, we can’t estimate how long cleanup actions will take,” an agency spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “At all superfund sites, the length of time to complete all remediation work depends on a number of site-specific factors.”

The spokeswoman added that it’s hard to predict when those studies will be finished, whether there will be funding after paying for other, higher-priority superfund sites, and what role parties responsible for the sites’ pollution will play.

And those studies are typically a lengthy process.

It takes more than 5 years on average after an area is proposed for those studies to finish, according to a DCNF analysis of 13,874 proposed, current, and cleaned sites as of 2013. However, studies at 363 superfund sites took even longer, with 78 waiting more than a decade. Three sites took the longest at 26 years.

Several hundred sites, however, weren’t included in TheDCNF’s results because completion dates were unavailable, though its unclear if the data is missing or if the studies haven’t been completed.

“We also don’t know yet what are all of the problems that need to be addressed, and therefore what the cleanup remedies should be – that information, which will be included in the proposed remediation plan, will ultimately help determine project cost and timeline,” the spokeswoman said.

EPA-led decontamination at now-fully cleaned areas didn’t begin for five years on average following superfund designation, TheDCNF previously reported. Studies and cleaning start dates could be further delayed if the agency engages in lengthy legal battles with the private parties that polluted the areas.

Only 391 of the 1,719 superfund sites have been fully cleaned since the superfund program began in 1980, according to the EPA.

Additionally, cleaning mines is typically significantly more expensive than other superfund sites, the Government Accountability Office reported in September 2015.

The EPA admitted there are serious threats to drinking water, the environment and the human food chain around Gold King Mine, TheDCNF previously reported. The agency claims the region’s superfund designation stems from decades of mine waste decimating fish populations.

Meanwhile, the EPA admitted it has no plan to protect humans or wildlife if officials detect contaminate level spikes in the Animas River, which have been observed during storms.

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