EPA: Pollution from mine spill much worse than feared – by Steve Garrison and Joshua Kellogg (USA Today – August 10, 2015)


FARMINGTON, N.M. — Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday that the Gold King Mine discharged an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water, three times the amount previously believed.

The mine continues to discharge 500 gallons per minute, EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said in a teleconference call Sunday afternoon, but the polluted water is being contained and treated in two ponds by the site of the spill near Silverton, Colo.

According to preliminary testing data the EPA released Sunday, arsenic levels in the Durango area of the Animas River were, at their peak, 300 times the normal level, and lead was 3,500 times the normal level. Officials said those levels have dropped significantly since the plume moved through the area.

Both metals pose a significant danger to humans at high levels of concentration.

“Yes, those numbers are high and they seem scary,” said Deborah McKean, chief of the Region 8 Toxicology and Human Health and Risk Assessment. “But it’s not just a matter of toxicity of the chemicals, it’s a matter of exposure.”

She said the period of time those concentrations remain in one area is short.

Earlier Sunday the city of Durango, Colo., and La Plata County, Colo., declared a state of emergency. The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management also issued a state of emergency declaration in response to the spill.

EPA officials said in the teleconference Sunday afternoon that water quality experts have been deployed to Shiprock and are encouraging people there to take advantage of water quality sampling.

EPA officials said they are also working to provide necessary materials to people in Farmington and Aztec for private well sampling.

New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman Allison Scott-Majure said testing has not yet been performed in San Juan County.

In San Juan County, restrictions are still in effect along the Animas River, said County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter. The biggest obstacle, he said, is making sure residents and livestock have access to drinking water.

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