From the “if a citizen or company did this there would be hell to pay” department:
The Environmental Protection Agency often justifies its own existence by noting that corporations, who see profit as their goal rather than environmental protection, are ill-equipped (or at least, ill-prioritized) to care for America’s natural resources.
It turns out that, perhaps, the EPA might also be ill-equipped to handle toxic waste when it comes to preventing large-scale pollution of our nation’s waterways. In fact, they may have caused, on its own, one of our nation’s greatest environmental disasters. EPA crews trying to collect and contain waste water in the Gold King mine in Durango, Colorado,loosed 1.1 million gallons of “acidic, yellowish” discharge, causing the pollution – which includes levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, aluminum and copper – to flow into the Animas River (an early tributary of the Colorado) at a rate of 1200 gallons per minute.
From the Denver Post:
EPA chiefs flew in Friday and acknowledged an inappropriate initial response Wednesday in which they downplayed the severity and failed to anticipate the downstream impacts.
Durango identifies itself as the “River City,” and residents’ lives revolve around fishing, swimming, tubing and entertaining tourists along the Animas River.
Most longtime residents know too well the problem of old mines that leak heavy metals into headwaters — an issue around Colorado and the western United States — but never expected a ruinous onslaught like this.
Holly Jobson, 62, walking at noon along banks where yellow sediment was glomming onto rocks, said Silverton ought to push for a proper federal cleanup around mines. Silverton officials in the past have resisted, fearing the stigma of a federal Superfund cleanup designation and the impact on tourism.
By this morning, the waterflow had decreased to around 580 gallons per minute. Lab testing has not yet begun on site, and the EPA is apologizing for their slow response rate, particularly considering the magnitude of the incident. Durango gets most of its water from the Aminas River and relies on the river’s beauty to bring tourists to the town. The city has already lost $150,000 in revenue this month. 1,000 water wells are presumed contaminated.