Latest: Officials open a criminal investigation of EPA’s role in the Animas river spill

Agency contractors were excavating debris at the old mining site when the river flooded with wastewater.

  • Lime is added to a settling pond to assist in the pH adjustment of water from the Gold King mine prior to discharge into Cement Creek.

    Eric Vance/EPA

On Aug. 5, 2015, as Environmental Protection Agency contractors excavated debris at the old Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, a blowout sent 3 million gallons of heavy metal-laden wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers, turning the water a sickening mustard-yellow. The contamination left Navajo Nation farmers downstream without water, inspired dozens of lawsuits against the EPA and raised concerns about how to remediate the West’s thousands of abandoned mines (“Silverton’s Gold King Reckoning,HCN, 5/2/16). 

This month, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General confirmed that it’s conducting a criminal investigation into the agency’s role in the spill, just after the EPA released a report implicating Colorado mining law. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., have pushed the government to hold someone responsible for the damage. So far, the EPA has spent $29 million on remediation. Should the site receive Superfund designation, it would be eligible for more federal dollars. 

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