Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials admitted mine waste leaked from a water treatment plant near the scene of last year’s Gold King Mine blowout.
An agency spokeswoman said, “discharged water and solids that entered Cement Creek had been treated with lime and consisted of precipitated metals in the form of metal hydroxides which will quickly settle out of the creek.” The whole incident lasted about 2 hours.
“During the high rain event on August 23, stakeholders were notified that some treatment solids that had accumulated on the dewatering bag pad, solids which are normally recirculated back to the clarifier through a sump, overtopped the sumps and entered Cement Creek,” the spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“When the release was identified, the sumps were reconfigured to recirculate the solids back into the clarifier and stop the discharge,” she said.
Heavy rainfall caused the treatment plant to overflow and spill into Cement Creek, The Associated Press reported. The treatment plant was built by EPA near Gold King Mine to filter out mine waste from water before it flows into nearby rivers.
It’s been a little over year since EPA workers caused a massive mine blowout near Silverton, Colo. EPA workers intentionally breached the Gold King Mine, causing more than three million gallons of toxic wastewater to flood rivers in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Navajo Nation.
EPA is still assessing the extent of Thursday night’s spill, but it comes after Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against EPA for polluting the San Juan River, which tribesmen rely on for drinking water and agriculture. New Mexico has sued EPA and the state of Colorado over the 2015 spill.
Republican lawmakers heavily criticized EPA for not punishing or firing anyone involved with the mine spill. While the agency has not taken any disciplinary actions, the EPA inspector general’s office recently confirmed there’s an ongoing criminal investigation into the mine spill.
Navajo Nation already suffers from high unemployment and is heavily reliant on the San Juan River for raising cattle and growing crops.
“Our suicides started like three weeks after the spill occurred,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told TheDCNF’s Ethan Barton in March, after a spike in suicides hit the tribe.
Begaye couldn’t say “whether they’re directly related,” but said the polluted river “aggravated urges” of those already “vulnerable” to suicide.
Navajo Nation says EPA owes it $1 million for damages from the spill, but to date the EPA has only given the tribe $157,000 for costs incurred from the spill. The EPA, however, says it has spent $1.1 million responding to the spill to give Navajo farmers and ranchers hay and water needed to keep their businesses going.
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