Posts Tagged ‘Gold King Mine’

SpiroFlo reviews the recent pollution of the Animas River and why the Environmental Protection Agency is unable to respond quickly.

The big environmental story this week is the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in the Animas River. If you aren’t familiar with the story:

  • The Animas River—named by a Spanish explorer as the “River of Souls”—is part of the Colorado River System. At 126 miles long, the river begins in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and flows into New Mexico.
  • Silverton, Colorado was a gold mine town (until the last mine closed in 1991). On August 5th, while working on the Gold King Mine near Silverton, an EPA-contracted company accidentally broke the dam holding back a tailing pond (a somewhat neutral term for a pond full of metals and waste from mining). Their intended task was to pump out and treat the contaminated mine water.
  • Over 3,000,000 gallons of this wastewater and tailings (the non-revenue materials/minerals from mining) flooded the Animas River. As of August 11th—six days after the initial breach—acidic water drainage from the metal mine continued to flow out at a rate of 500-700 gallons per minute. The pollution rates were updated (for the worse) and will likely continue to be so as the story progresses.
  • The wastewater spill affected waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of the Navajo Nation (in those areas).

As a result of the spill, the Animus River, which usually looks like this…


…turned orange within 24 hours…


…and later turned green:


Although the EPA has taken responsibility for the environmental disaster, they have been criticized for waiting a day before telling anyone. Other criticisms include giving inaccurate information (it’s usually the EPA who releases the numbers on spills like this—they’re just usually not also responsible, thereby creating a conflict of interest).

At first, there was no testing of the river contents. Some say this came about due to the changing water conditions; others noted that problems such as lead poisoning can be hard to detect. What we do know is that lead poisoning is linked to slowing child development and increasing learning disabilities (there are good reasons why lead paint got banned from homes). Given what’s in a gold mine, heavy metals are a guarantee—the kind of minerals that the EPA rightfully regulates away from air, earth, and water.

The Denver Post reported that, when river water was tested 15 miles downstream from Durango, Colorado, iron levels were 326 times the domestic water limit allowed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Iron levels were recorded at 100 times above the limit. CNN noted these iron levels as being 12,000 times higher than normal. CNN also noted the Animas River had “extremely high levels of arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and mercury. It also contained zinc, iron and copper.”

As a result of this, several people are deciding whether to sue the EPA. However, many believe this course of legal action won’t even be possible. Some have labeled the EPA the Environmental Pollution Agency and believe that if a private corporation had done that they’ve done, they’d have the CEO’s picture posted everywhere as a villain, and the EPA would be pushing for punitive justice. Now that the EPA is responsible, that pursuit of justice is a lot more leisurely.

Farmington, New Mexico has 90 days’ worth of drinking water before they have to pump in from elsewhere. However, some claim that, even within a week, water toxicity levels around the Durango area were back to pre-catastrophe levels. Brings to mind that old slogan “Dilution is the solution.” Regardless, many believe the impact of this polluted water won’t be fully seen for months, and that the EPA is moving too slow in the clean-up process.

So why does this clean up seem to be taking so long? There are two main reasons:

  • Bureaucracy: I know it’s a term that’s thrown around often, but when you’re dealing with a government agency that usually has to wait to go through public hearings and approval processes (all while some believe they wind up promoting their greased palm connections anyway), it makes it hard to respond to emergencies. You would think there would be an emergency protocol, and even if there is, that’s subject to abuse, too. Suddenly every project is an emergency…
  • Any private company that helps with the clean up becomes liable for its success. That’s right: While the EPA will likely not be held liable for the mess they made, if your company helps clean it up, you could be held responsible for the mess you didn’t make. While I understand there must be some standards for any company that’s signing up for a lot of important work, you can understand why plenty of viable technology companies would say no thanks. The EPA might as well put up a sign that reads “Now hiring scapegoats.”

The really scary thing is, thanks to several industries, there are hundreds of thousands of retaining ponds just like this (which the EPA were trying to fix), usually in pristine areas. The SpiroFlo series of companies has solutions for spinning these toxic minerals out of water, but we’re not looking to break into the scapegoat business. Sorry.

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As always, sources are in the comments.

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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