EPA-triggered mine spill in Colorado triples in volume
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday the spill caused accidentally by one of its clean-up teams working at an old Colorado gold mine has tripled in volume.
The leak, containing high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, is now estimated to have reached about three million gallons of toxic wastewater, triple than originally estimated.
According to the first statement released by the EPA, the contaminated water was hiding out behind debris near the Gold King Mine entrance, where the crew was working with heavy machinery. The mine waste poured out into a nearby creek, eventually leading to the Animas River where the spill spread.
The discharge was still flowing at the rate of 500 gallons per minute yesterday, four days after the spill began at the Gold King Mine, the EPA added.
Thaddeus Lightfoot, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, who has nearly three decades of practicing environmental law, told MINING.com the incident poses a real liability problem for EPA and its contractor.
"Where EPA contractors have made such mistakes in the past, courts have held them viable for any additional remediation required by such actions despite statutory immunity provisions," Lightfoot said.
The agency has been diverting the ongoing release into two newly built settling ponds where the waste was being treated with chemicals to lower its acidity and to filter out dissolved solids before being discharged to Cement Creek.
The federal unit has also set up a website to provide constant updates on the situation.
EPA reiterated the spill does not threaten local sources of drinking water and the main contaminants responsible for the leak’s mustard-like colour are unlikely to be dangerous.
Still, recreational activity on the affected waterways has been suspended until the orange-coloured plume has fully dissipated.