Friday, August 14, 2015

Colorado town begged EPA to leave Gold King Mine alone

By Tori Richards

Five months before the Animas River toxic spill disaster, leaders from the tiny Colorado mining town of Silverton pleaded with EPA officials to not perform tests that would declare the area a Superfund site.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency was intent on ferreting out “widespread soil contamination” from historic mines, even though the town was tested five years ago and no problems were found.

“The fact is that our mission is to protect human health and the environment and not to stick our heads in the sand and not look,” declared Steve Wharton, head of a Superfund response team. His comments were contained in a March 27 article that appeared in the local Silverton Standard newspaper.

On Aug. 5, an EPA crew breached a debris dam at the old Gold King Mine, and 3 million gallons of water containing lead and arsenic flowed into the Animas River. The poisons turned the water bright orange and have since flowed into Utah and New Mexico, creating an epic disaster affecting farmers, towns and the Navajo Nation, which rely on the water.

The crews had started to collect soil samples sometime after June 23.

One geologist thinks the EPA created the mess to give itself another Superfund site to work on.

Five days before the breach, the Silverton Standard ran a letter to the editor from a person identified as Dave Taylor, who said he had 47 years’ experience as a professional geologist.

The technical letter describes how the EPA will create a scenario where “the water will find a way out and exfiltrate uncontrollably through connected abandoned shafts, drifts, raises, fractures…contamination may actually increase due to the disturbance and flushing action within the workings.”

Taylor accused the EPA of creating the mess to get “a foot in the door to justify its hidden agenda for construction of a treatment plant.”

Taylor wasn’t too far off. When asked in the town meeting whether the EPA wanted to declare the area a Superfund site, EPA project manager Paula Schmittdiel said, “That’s still a point of discussion.”

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