The U.S. EPA is expected to police pollution in the nation’s waterways, but in an infamous instance two years ago, the agency itself became the polluter.
In August of 2015, the Animas River was “grievously polluted with toxic water spilled from one of the many abandoned mines that pockmark the region — a spill for which the EPA claimed responsibility, saying it accidentally breached a store of chemical-laced water,” The New York Times reported.
The spill contaminated waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah with toxic heavy metals, including arsenic.
The agency is still taking steps to address the issue. The Associated Press reported in September that the agency is “installing a barrier and valve inside an inactive Colorado mine to prevent another surge of wastewater like a 2015 blowout that contaminated rivers in three states.”
“The valve will be mounted in a steel-and concrete barrier about 70 feet (20 meters) inside the mine. The barrier will have watertight access doors so workers and equipment can get deeper into the mine for cleanup and investigation,” the report continued.
The agency is also drilling a giant well in the mine to drain water away.
“That water would be routed through a temporary treatment plant below the mine where wastewater draining from the main entrance is cleaned up,” the report said.
Peter Butler, a leader of the volunteer Animas River Stakeholders Group, commented on the agency’s actions.
"It's probably a good idea," he said. "They are showing an abundance of caution."
The EPA came under harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers last year for how it handled the aftermath of the spill. U.S. Rep Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the Justice Department, under the Obama administration, was "going easy" on the EPA by failing to prosecute a staffer connected with the spill.
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Image credit: "polluted animas river," mor © 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/