Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew of the potential for a poisonous water “blow-out” at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado at least a year before the major spill released 3 million gallons of tainted mine water into the Las Animas River, documents show.
In a work order written by the EPA in June 2014 instructing contractor Environmental Restoration about the mine’s conditions, the agency said there is likely to be at least one “impoundment” of waste water in the mine, due largely to a 1995 collapse of a portal leading to it.
“Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine,” the EPA’s Denver-based Region 8 wrote in the report.
A communication in May 2015 by Environmental Restoration also warned of the blowout risk. It called for the construction of a pond to catch the waste water. No one ever built the pond.
The reports are likely to play a major role in the various investigations launched into the incident. Lawmakers are conducting examinations, in addition to EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the Interior Department and other bodies.
The EPA is under fire locally and nationally over the Aug. 5 spill where about 3 million gallons of fluid containing heavy metals, like mercury and lead, spilled into a tributary of the Animas River, turning it bright orange and closing it and other rivers for more than a week.
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology announced last week that in September it would conduct the first hearing regarding the spill, after Congress returns from its summer recess.
The EPA also received criticism for a perceived lack of transparency and urgency in its response.
The task order statement of work by Environmental Restoration dated 6/25/14 starts off saying:
“The conditions at the Gold King Mine present an endangerment to human health and the environment and meet the criteria for initiating a removal action under 40 CFR section 300.415(b)(2).
“The Gold King Mine location is characterized by a mine discharge that is a significant contributor of manganese, copper, zinc and cadmium into the Cement creek drainage of the Animas River watershed.
“The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed.
“This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. ln addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions.
“Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.”
Click here to view the EPA document.