Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials say they need to control a Colorado region because decades of mining there have destroyed a local creek’s fish populations, but an internal report contradicts that claim.
Natural toxins pollute Colorado’s Cement Creek – an Animas River tributary – and it’s unclear if those waters supported aquatic life even before human interference, according to the EPA’s April 2015 Baseline Ecological Risk Assessment (BERA) report said.
“Mainstem Mineral Creek … and mainstem Cement Creek may not have supported viable fish … communities before large-scale mining activities started in the 19th century due to naturally high levels of metals and low pH levels in their surface waters,” the report said. “This represents a serious uncertainty, which would have to be considered as part of any future risk management decision-making.”
Yet EPA officials still claim acid mine waste killed Cement Creek’s fish and that reversing such pollution requires a Superfund designation, which would make more funding available for the agency and give it more legal power over private activities in the region. (RELATED: EPA Says Yellow River Now Safe, But Still Wants Control)
“[D]ischarge from historic mining activities … have been occurring in the Animas for decades, and have led to declining fish populations in the watershed and the complete absence of fish in Cement Creek,” an EPA spokeswoman previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath has made similar claims.
The EPA unleashed three million gallons of toxic waste into Cement Creek on Aug. 5, 2015, after an agency crew penetrated Gold King Mine. The flood, which carried 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals like lead and arsenic, flowed into the Animas and San Juan rivers, polluting water for three states and the Navajo Nation.
The Animas River is only lethal to fish in a stretch of approximately seven miles, according to the BERA report, which tested more than 30 miles of the river. Much of that pollution is likely sourced from Cement and Mineral creeks.
EPA researchers tested whether native fish could live in water sampled from numerous locations on the Animas for 96 hours. Only one location was lethal to fish year round, while another was somewhat lethal for part of the year.
Diluting the toxic samples with water from cleaner stretches of the Animas River greatly decreased fish mortality. Fish in other tested portions of the Animas are “stressed” at worst, the report said.
Yet EPA officials claim dangers to fish, rather than threats to human health, are why the mine-heavy region must be designated a Superfund site. The agency proposed designating Gold King and 47 other mines into a consolidated Superfund site following the August disaster – an action local residents only submitted to after resisting it for 20 years. (RELATED: EPA Pollutes River, Uses Scare Tactics To Take Control Of A Colorado Town)
In other words, the EPA wants to control a mine-heavy region because just seven miles is uninhabitable for fish, which is possibly independent of human influence.
The EPA, however, supplemented its findings with a Colorado survey that showed fish populations have declined since 2005, which coincides with the closure of a water treatment plant that was decontaminating leakages from the area’s mines.
The treatment plant’s closure stemmed from a court agreement between mine owner Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Colorado. The settlement also required Sunnyside to plug the American Tunnel, which ultimately increased pressure and leakages at other nearby mines, including Gold King.
That pressure increase was a major factor that caused the EPA’s Gold King Mine blowout, which led the nearby community to reverse their opposition to the Superfund designation.
The EPA did not respond to TheDCNF’s multiple requests for comment for this story.
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