EPA Contaminated Colorado River to Toxic Orange

Exactly how does it happen that during an investigation into pollutants at an abandoned mine in Colorado, the EPA inadvertently ‘pulled a plug’ that was deterring waste from entering the Animas River, thus allowing one million gallons of toxic metals including, zinc, copper and iron flood into the river unabated?

The orange sludge is now travelling down river without any restraint whatsoever. Boaters are obviously told to avoid the river as the toxicity is deadly, farmers are told to halt any watering, and residents are told their water supply is contaminated.

Gee – sorry…

Within a day the sludge had travelled from the Mine in Silverton to Durango. And while they are still ‘evaluating’ the fish death and the related inevitable deaths that will occur to wildlife that rely on the water, I don’t think a lot of people will be so anxious to eat a fish laden with 1 million gallons of toxic mine waste. The water is glowing!

Pish-posh, says the EPA, the water was already dirty anyway…

The Animas River is 126 miles long, flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico which feeds the Colorado River in Utah. Eco reports have long concluded that the tailings are deadly to all fish, migratory birds, animals, vegetation and invertebrates. The risk for humans is most grave for children.

Mines of this sort are mostly found in the middle of what is – or once was – beautiful forest land with bubbling brooks and pristine rivers. Deer, antelope, bunnies, that sort of thing.  Regulations are routinely not adhered to, waste is fed into the rivers and streams, the toxicity levels kill off the fish and wildlife, and the mine tops out it’s useful life and shuts down leaving gaping holes, razed land and – pollution.

In a study done by the EPA, the Iron Mountain mine in Redding, California was given the dubious honor of being the largest source of surface water pollution in the entire United States. It is now a ‘superfund’ site, meaning it was granted special cleanup status and remediation. Twenty years of cleanup and it’s 95% done.

In reading the proposed 2016 budget for the EPA, it sounds like a presidential campaign: $8.6 billion “to be used in addressing climate change and improving air quality, protecting our water, safeguarding the health and safety of the public from toxic chemicals, supporting the environmental health of communities, and working toward a sustainable environmental future for all Americans.”

As of 2014 there were 1322 superfund sites with an additional 53 proposed. Until the mid 1990’s a tax imposed on chemical and petroleum industries was supposed to cover the cost of remediation. As of 2003, the fund had depleted it’s entire reserve of $6 billion and today, the party that caused the pollution is responsible to pay for the cleanup. If the party is gone, lost, adios, then the money is appropriated by Congress from the General Fund.

Here is an example of how it might work: In 1989, the EPA conducted an investigation and found Lockheed Martin in Colorado to have groundwater contaminants including TCE and NDMA. TCE affects the developmental and neurological systems. It is considered a carcinogenic causing substance related to kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and various tumors in animals. NDMA is considered ‘highly’ toxic to the liver even in small doses. Death occurs within a matter of two weeks – or less. Symptoms include liver failure within 24 hours, rapidly declining platelet count, fever, vomiting, intradermal hemorrhage, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, coma, pulmonary fibrosis and then death.

In 1999, ten years after the EPA identified Lockheed, they produced their own internal report which showed 53 separate contaminated sites on their property. Another investigation of the external assessment of the toxicity was done in 2000. That report found no ‘public threat’.

Additional studies were conducted in 2002, 2004 and 2005. In 2012, the Air Force presented the EPA with a ‘cleanup plan’. The EPA conducts five year reviews after the cleanup to determine if in fact there is any residual contamination. For this particular site, no five year reviews are ‘required’. There is no stated reason why. The site is still in cleanup mode 26 years after the initial EPA designation.

So given the EPA is responsible for this cleanup in Colorado…how long will it take?

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