Navajo sues EPA over Gold King Mine spill

The Navajo Nation is taking the EPA to court for a spill of toxic wastewater a year ago from an abandoned Colorado gold mine.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico joins another lawsuit initiated by the state of New Mexico against the EPA in May. In that court action, New Mexico sued the EPA, a contractor and two mining companies over the August 2015 breach of the Gold King mine, citing environmental damages and economic harm.

"One of the Navajo people's most important sources of water for life and livelihood was poisoned with some of the worst contaminants known to man, including lead and arsenic"

The spill was accidentally triggered when EPA teams called in to inspect seepage at the mine, unleashed a torrent of yellow sludge containing heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead. Around a million gallons discharged into a nearby creek, continued to the Animas River, and flowed into river systems in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.The contaminated water was hiding behind debris near the now shut-down Gold King Mine entrance, where the crew was working with heavy machinery, said a statement by the EPA.

According to a court filing quoted by Reuters, the Navajo allege the EPA and other parties "recklessly" burrowed into the mine, "releasing waste into water upstream from the tribe's land."

"One of the Navajo people's most important sources of water for life and livelihood was poisoned with some of the worst contaminants known to man, including lead and arsenic," Navajo Nation said in the 48-page complaint, which names the EPA, contractor Environmental Restoration, Kinross Gold Corp (NYSE:KGC, TSX:K) and Sunnyside Gold Corp.

The federally-recognized tribe says the spill has cost them millions of dollars for which they have yet to be compensated. The Navajo also note their heavy reliance on the now-contaminated San Juan River.

The EPA acknowledges its role in the spill, and has made over $29 million available in compensation including $1 million for the Navajo Nation, Reuters reports. The agency may designate the Gold King mine as a Superfund site which would qualify it for more cleanup funds. A plan has also been put in place to monitor water quality.