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RESOURCES Gold King Mine Spill
updated 08/24/2015 The Orange River: Not what The Golden River had In mind... ...when photographing an earlier version of the recently contaminated Animas River and putting it on the front page of the website Above: superimposed orange coated plate on top of the Animas River before spill represents seepage of orange-colored iron mixed in with heavy metals and other toxins from The Gold King Mine north of Silverton in southwest Colorado.  The photos at the very top of this page and below right are shots of the Animas River near the Durango Public Library showing a light tell-tale sign of the spill along the banks.  If you did not know what you were looking for, you might miss it or chalk it up to algae or a muddy residue as is often found after a heavy rain.  This post-mine spill residue is currently found up and down the Animas along banks and mud slurries, and sometimes has an iridescent sheen, especially in low light visible in early morning or sundown.  WATER ISSUES GOLD KING MINE TOXIC SPILL IN SOUTHWEST COLORADO One article below ( suggests that the Gold King Mine was not abandoned since the 1920s as has been suggested, but that it had been used in the 1990s for exploration and to extract silver and gold, and that it is known to have tellurium used in advanced  applications.  The Gold King Mine owner is reported to be suggesting a rich Canadian mine owner of a nearby mine, the Sunnyside, is responsible for leaks to the Gold King Mine which caused the water overload.  That mine owner is reported as denying the charges.  One rumor is that the first reported discharge of 1 million gallons of toxic water was increased to three million by heavy rains and a hole in the tunnel’s portal dam that was not patched.   Different news stories are saying different things.  One concern being voiced is that environmentalists are protecting the EPA by not decrying its negligence enough.  It is true that no matter who caused the toxic discharge, the priority at this time is dealing with water testing, purification and finding alternative water sources, but careful investigations into the factors behind the spill should continue.  We should not rule out a criminal act of deliberate or semi-deliberate attempt.  If a person is driving a car and is involved in involuntary manslaughter, that person still usually gets charged with a criminal act and goes to jail.  Intentional or unintentional, the result is a point of no return: the taking of another human life.  An accident of this magnitude might not show the immediate results of highway carnage to justify a similar charge of involuntary manslaughter, but we can ask ourselves about the real world health consequences of poisoning such a prominent water supply.  In addition, although this disaster looks like a genuine accident, good investigators do not assume anything, and we should not avoid the possibility someone purposely caused the spill (like a corrupt anti-American entity or someone with a vindictive motive.)  The situation should be investigated as carefully as investigating a crime case and the fact a governmental entity is behind the problem should not absolve it of responsibility even though it is publicly admitting its fault.  The fact remains, as articles show below, huge amounts of nasty stuff have been ejected into the environment and there really is no way to protect wildlife and plants from this.  Humans will have to use extra precautions and higher quality forms of water treatment.  People have more options for where and how they get their water than wildlife and stationery plant life.  No one should take for granted that all contaminants are being removed by the water treatment systems.     We can combat known contaminants but we always risk not having control over all them; glitches in purification systems can release toxins and purification systems are designed for the known and might miss the unknown.  Consider that locals might have an economically driven desire to not release all information or to control water testing sources at least within the state of Colorado or nearby because of a variety of reasons - tourism industry, family networks or political ties to the contractors, mining operations or owners both past and present and even the government.  Locals might have actually worked at some of the mines both a long time ago and in more recent times, with ties running across several generations.  There could be family secrets or mutually agreed upon “keep our mouths shut” running across certain groups.   We need to ask who exactly in Canada is behind the Sunnyside Mine or any other mines in the area.  Do we have Chinese Canadians involved in this? Is there a political linke between Obama, the EPA and these Canadians? Or is it as the owners of the Sunnyside apparently suggest, that their mine’s droppings have nothing to do with the Gold King Mine.  In addition, people with wells and ditchwater irrigation probably have a heavy load on their hands for years to come.  Health problems might show up immediately or later.    Gold King Mine Owner I Foresaw Disaster Before EPA Spill colorado/ EPA Gross Negligence 8/18/2015 photos-from-their-website/ EPA Knew of Possible Problems Before Accident 8/22/2015   Here are excellent photos of the Gold King Mine wastewater spill: mine?articleId=USKCN0QF01C20150810 Here is an excellent introduction to this kind of mining related water pollution: Earthworks Excerpt: Acid mine drainage is one of mining's most serious threats to water. A mine draining acid can devastate rivers, streams, and aquatic life for hundreds, and under the "right" conditions, thousands of years. ...acid mine drainage can have severe impacts on fish, animals and plants. Many impacted streams have a pH of 4 or lower -- similar to battery acid. See more at: Toxic Effluvia From Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado Spilled into Local Water Drainages Mine waste has been a concern for decades in terms of local water supply.  I remember a man I went hiking with up there telling me he had no trust in the local water supply in Durango and that it was best to use filtered water; he said the water was contaminated from mine waste pollution. This was back around 1994 or 1995. Some questions that come to mind over the EPA connection to this disaster are: Why is a regulating agency like the EPA personally handling a cleanup?  In my ignorance, I have to ask if this is normal.  Shouldn’t such an agency keep its distance (and objectivity) by having local area companies and groups handle the actual hands on cleanup work?  Even if contracting with a local cleanup crew, the fact they are directly involved seems suspicious and that it would be more prudent to have regulatory overseers and advisers stay on one side of the legalities in enforcement of environmental standards, with workers and implementers on the other side.  How about using self-contained holding tanks to suck up contaminated mine water rather than earth or rock dams?  How about using robots to check out tunnels for unsuspected water levels and vacuums to suck out water into holding tanks?  How about drying out the watery areas and dealing with the contaminants as dry substances - it might make it easier to deal with.   If the toxins had been kept in a controlled area, transformation or alleviation of toxicity might have been possible.  By having the stew spread across the land below, it is impossible to deal with effectively.  It should be a primary objective to keep the toxic material in highly controlled areas with backup plans for mishaps part of the strategy for reparation.  Some engineers in the resources below have suggested that it would have been better to check for flow and contaminants first, then dig a large well-made containment structure in front of the portal to the mine and to use a pipe.  Maybe it’s just my ignorance again, but I feel I would have preferred to at least consider having the water discharged in controlled amounts to nonporous, leak-proof solid containers which could operate as both temporary holding tanks and places where various stages and types of water treatment/testing could occur.  I personally have doubts about using the earth itself as a holding tank for such heinously deleterious materials.  The sense of a lack of top notch control is paramount around this travesty. See: The EPA Is Polluting Our Rivers: Where’s The Outrage? Why wasn’t there better planning and foresight?  Why does the event feel like a bunch of bulls (bulldozers) in a china closet?  Backup plans for unforeseen flow (runaway flows) seems necessary.  The reliance on a soil based dam to hold in the noxious substances comes across as unprofessional; what if there had been a serious rain storm rather than an unsuspected amount of water in the mine tunnels that had caused the problem?  Preparation in advance for possible flow mishaps seems to be prudent.  We can’t fix the problem after the fact, but perhaps there is a use for this information in future mine water reparation projects.  In addition, perhaps this lack of preparatory professionalism is a red flag that something is amiss with the EPA itself and locals working with it. 1. The STEW: That toxic mess had been stewing together for years. Started to be dumped in 1920s or before.  Contents of contaminated water: Lead, Iron, Cadmium, Copper, Arsenic and more.  Unique stew reactants and reaction causal agents.  The stew includes a mix of the chemicals themselves and other things.   Probably not just the originally mine discharged chemicals are the problem but includes later modified materials.  On top of this there might be pond-like bacteria, viruses and algae.  Although unlikely after all this time of being closed, we can ask if any other materials on hand at the mine are in the stew - for example old machinery oils, fecal matter from toilet areas that never dried out, etc. 2. Bacteria, viruses and algae.   3. Bioaccumulation.   Common sense: any time any pond-like body of water lays stagnant for a period of time, organisms deleterious to human life might develop.   Excerpt from Wildlife Utah: Scientists once thought the brine layer in the lake effectively sequestered heavy metals. More recent studies on mercury and selenium concentrations show that the exact opposite could be happening—the chemistry of the lake is actually converting, or methylating, the mercury and thus making it available for absorption into algae and microorganisms. Brine shrimp feed on algae and incorporate heavy metals into their fatty acids. When the birds eat brine shrimp, they accumulate even more heavy metals in their system. This process is known as bioaccumulation and can be highly toxic for birds and other animals higher up in the food chain, including humans. 4. Environmentally driven genetic modifications? Hypothetically again, there might be a possibility of genetically modified organisms changed by interaction with the concoction of substances.   5. Acids: Remember that acid breaks down metals into other substances and these in turn might mix with yet other elements and compounds causing both known and unknown problems Effects of Inorganic and Organic Acids on Heavy Metals; Leaching in Contaminated Sediment 6. Salts: Salts can change the nature of barriers in living things.  How do salts and acids impact a toxic compound’s tendency to leak through cell barriers or weaken plant/animal life resistance to disease/poisons?  Salts along highways to control ice in winter are known to impact trees like ponderosas; Flagstaff, Arizona’s experience of long stretches of dead yellow trees along its major roads is a good example - but this is only a simple example because heavy metals in the form of salts are more dangerous, complex and long-lasting in the environment. Excerpt from Wildlife Utah: Since there is no outlet, heavy metals, often in the form of inorganic soluble salts, accumulate. Heavy metals end up in streams from weathering, mining, milling, and refining of surrounding mountains. If concentrations of these heavy metals persist, they could become toxic to life forms. It is actually currently unknown how much or little the heavy metals in the GSL are impacting the ecosystem. 7. Heavy metals: Subdivisions of Heavy Metal Poisoning Aluminum Poisoning Antimony Poisoning Arsenic Poisoning Barium Poisoning Bismuth Poisoning Cadmium Poisoning Chromium Poisoning Cobalt Poisoning Copper Poisoning Gold Poisoning 8.  Arsenic:  everyone knows how deadly arsenic is but how much is too much and how likely is it to seep into ground water and wells in strengths sufficient to cause problems? 9.  Radiation?  Any Uranium or related waste in this mess? Tritium and other radioactive substances from mine tailings? Any nearby mines with radiation which could be impacting this area of spill? 10.  Fumes?  How likely is breathing the fumes from the stew likely to cause health problems?  Although more concentrated fluids are probably more dangerous to breathe, at what point is breathing any portion of the stew dangerous, especially if harmful microscopic organisms are present?  Although probably not a problem in this situation, just think about how breathing chlorine gas can be dangerous.  Staying out of the contaminated water alone might not be the final answer; staying away from breathing fumes (whether they can be smelled or not) might also be an issue.  Since the stew might have uncertain characteristics, we should not assume anything without a full chemical breakdown. 11.  Water Purification: Filtering devices for water: how effective against the more dangerous substances and what are the chances for inadequate testing of all possible contaminants?  What are potential problems for water filtering devices? RESOURCES Colorado health department: Durango can start treating Animas water, dispersing to customers KOB conducting independent water testing as EPA asks for NM's help 8/11/2015 Excerpt: New Mexico is taking it upon itself to test the water in our state, and some Navajo Nation officials are asking the federal government for independent testing there, saying they don't trust what the EPA is telling them. Since not everyone trusts what the EPA is telling them, KOB has decided to get the water tested ourselves, hiring an independent lab to analyze water we've collected from the Animas. Mary Miles is like anyone else who lives along the river – scared. Not just of what's floating in her well water, but of how little she's heard from the EPA. NDTV: Toxic Spill From Colorado Mine Creeps Through US Southwest 8/12/2015 Colorado’s Silverton, Durango, and vicinity; New Mexico’s Aztec, Farmington and vicinity: Video clip, says mine last operated in 1923; state of local emergency for Durango and La Plata County 9 News: has a strong level of information not found elsewhere in one place and a video news clip Common Dreams: EPA Causes Massive Mine Waste Spill Turns River Orange Denver Post  Huge Highly Toxic EPA Caused Mine Spill Into Durango, Colorado’s Animas RIver (photo above is earlier version of river) and Beyond - Denver Post  KOAT  Durango Herald: Huge Water Contamination Problem Southwest Colorado, Northwest New Mexico and Beyond:: Toxic EPA Caused Animas River Spill - Durango Herald CPR Colorado Public Radio - good photographs and background info on mine’s waste area   Wildlife: Mining Health Hazards During Mining and After Wastewater Characteristics, Management and Reuse in Mining and Mineral Processing