Drinking water and the “human food chain” affecting thousands of people are seriously threatened, because the Environmental Protection Agency polluted a Colorado river with toxic metals waste, a government document shows.
But that’s not what EPA has been telling the public since the agency’s August 2015 accident that turned the Animas River yellow for nearly two weeks, threatening the main source of drinking and working water for residents in three states and the Navajo Nation.
The EPA polluted the Animas River with 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals like lead and arsenic after it intentionally breached the Gold King Mine in August. EPA released a statement shortly thereafter telling residents not to worry because toxic materials had been in the river for decades.
“So those using the river for recreation, agriculture or drinking water should use the same precautions they always have,” an agency spokeswoman said in the statement.
But if the river is as safe as it has always been, why is EPA now moving to designate the Gold King Mine and 47 other nearby mines a Superfund site and placed on the fund’s National Priority List? That designation is reserved for the nation’s most polluted areas and would give the EPA additional funding and increased control over economic and other human activities throughout the area.
The agency claims the superfund proposal stems from fish populations decimated by decades of leaking mine waste. A document EPA recently posted on its web site, the Hazardous Ranking System Documentation Record, however, shows that drinking water for humans could also be endangered.
“This contamination threatens not only human food chain fisheries, wetlands and wildlife habitat, including endangered species habitat, but also has the potential to impact downstream drinking water supplies serving thousands of people,” the document said.
Yet, the EPA says it didn’t measure the threat to drinking water after the accident because “there are no municipal wells located within the four mile radius that serve as potable supplies and a low population density in the mining area, so therefore, the pathway is unlikely to greatly impact the site score.”
An EPA spokesman who requested anonymity told The Daily Caller News Foundation late Thursday that “the Hazard Ranking System is not a risk assessment. It is a numerical screening model, prescribed by regulation, used to determine eligibility for the NPL.”
In fact, water supplies downstream from the EPA-caused Gold King Mine spill were heavily affected.
Navajo Nation agriculture, for example, was seriously harmed, and outside water had to be brought in for residents and farmers. Farmington, N.M. — about 100 miles downstream from the spill — still closes its water intakes during storms that stir up poisonous contaminates lingering in the water.
Meanwhile, the EPA is using a lower water quality standard that allows significantly more lead in the river, and the agency doesn’t have a plan to protect humans or wildlife if officials measure spikes in contaminate levels during storms.
When asked how the human food chain can be seriously threatened without endangering humans, especially considering the popularity of fishing in nearby Silverton, Colorado, the EPA spokesman told TheDCNF that “our data has shown no impacts to private drinking water wells. In addition, municipal drinking water is treated to ensure it meets drinking water quality criteria prior to delivery to homes.”
The EPA also recognized that “waste piles do pose a threat to sensitive terrestrial environments, including the habitat of the Canada Lynx,” but said other hazards were “sufficient alone to qualify the site for” superfund designation.
Francesca Collins contributed to this report.
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