The Environmental Protection Agency told The Denver Post on Friday it is still “evaluating treatment options” at the site where the agency spilled 3 million gallons of contaminants Aug. 5.
An EPA spokeswoman had said Aug. 14 that the agency was planning to build a commercial wastewater treatment system to mitigate metallic contaminants still flowing from the Gold King. The agency now says such a facility is still on the table, but not definite.
“If a water treatment facility is decided upon, it will likely be a temporary plant,” Nancy Grantham, an EPA spokeswoman, said Friday evening.
The EPA has said whatever treatment option they choose, it needs to be in place before winter when the current apparatus — several sediment ponds — will be obsolete or destroyed by the cold and snow.
Officials in Silverton and San Juan County, where the mine lies, have publicly called for a treatment facility below the Gold King and several adjacent mines, which leak hundreds of gallons of contaminated water every minute…
“I don’t think they know what to do at this point,” said Bill Simon, a coordinator for the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which has been working on remediation solutions in the Silverton area for decades. I think that’s good because it’s better to try and understand it before they come up with a solution that doesn’t work and spend a lot of money.”
More questions than answers face those tasked with deciding the most efficient and feasible plan for cleaning up leaky mines above Silverton.
The Environmental Protection Agency, at the behest of the San Juan County Commission, met with local and state officials at Silverton’s packed City Hall on Friday for an update about the Gold King Mine, where an EPA contractor accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas River in early August.
But for all the inquires into project time lines, funding and boundaries – or if the mine leakage from the Silverton caldera would even qualify for a Superfund designation – those looking for answers did not find much satisfaction.
The EPA could have summed up its response to all these inquiries by simply saying, “We need more data.”
The meeting’s main speaker was Mathy Stanislaus, an EPA assistant administrator based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in Superfunds – the federal program created specifically to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites.
Stanislaus initially said one of the advantages of the mining network above Silverton is that there is already a slew of data, complied by various local entities such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the state health department.
But as it turns out, the EPA would have to rely on its own sampling before being able to answer questions such as: What would be the boundary of a Superfund designation? How many years would the project take to complete? Or where would the site rank among the nation’s worst polluted areas, if at all?
Stanislaus explained that in the coming months, the EPA will work with local groups to conduct an evaluation of a variety of factors, including groundwater and soil issues, threat of exposure to humans and animals, as well as the potential impact to drinking water. The agency will then identify possible short- and long-term solutions…
However, none of these actions guarantee the mines north of Silverton will even qualify for the National Priority List, which is the ranking system that prioritizes hazardous sites.