EPA crew at Standard Mine above Crested Butte triggers waste spill — The Denver Post

Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County
Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Only an estimated 2,000 gallons spilled Tuesday, amid efforts to open a collapsed portal. The impact on town water is expected to be minimal…

The Standard Mine, five miles west of Crested Butte and abandoned, has been designated an environmental disaster since 2005 and targeted for a superfund cleanup. It is one of an estimated 230 inactive mines in Colorado that state officials know to be leaking toxic heavy metals into headwaters of the nation’s rivers.

The spill happened at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the EPA said it immediately informed public works officials. Residents weren’t notified. Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he wasn’t notified until Thursday.

EPA officials on Wednesday, responding to Denver Post queries about the mine, didn’t reveal the spill. On Thursday afternoon, the agency issued a prepared statement saying that, based on neutral acidity and creek flow levels, Crested Butte didn’t close its water intakes.

“Subsequent investigation found no visible plume or signs of significant impacts in downstream locations,” the EPA said.

At the cleanup site, acidic wastewater laced with cancer-causing cadmium and other toxic heavy metals leaches out of the mine into Elk Creek, which flows into Coal Creek — a primary source of water for Crested Butte. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that the levels of arsenic, cadmium and zinc in Coal Creek exceed state standards.

Huckstep requested EPA help testing water in Elk Creek, Coal Creek and in town.

“I want to make sure that the EPA’s work is being done in a diligent manner and that their contractors are following the right procedures. We’d like to see these types of events not happen,” Huckstep said.

“Obviously, after Gold King, there’s a high level of public concern and attention — rightfully so. … The EPA is willing to come in and do the work. We support that. But we want to make sure that these types of circumstances don’t happen.”

The local Coal Creek Watershed Coalition began additional water sampling along the waterways “to determine what the impact of the spill was,” director Zach Vaughter said.

“While this event is unfortunate, we have a great cooperation and partnership with the EPA working on our watershed. … From what I understand, they’ve kept town staff and the coalition in the loop.”

The EPA has been working toward installation of a long-planned bulkhead plug inside the mine, an effort to reduce the flow of acidic wastewater leaching cadmium, arsenic, lead and manganese from tailings and tunnels.

EPA crew members were drilling a new opening at the mine, parallel to a portal that is partially collapsed. They were using a vacuum truck to siphon water from a waste pond, but the truck “dipped too low,” the EPA’s statement said, causing grey-colored water from inside the mine and sediment to spill into Elk Creek.

From The Gunnison Country Times:

The Town of Crested Butte has been notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a spill estimated at 2,000 gallons or less of water and gray-colored sediment from a holding pond at the Standard Mine.

According to the EPA, a contractor had been dewatering the pond containing un-mineralized sediment from drilling operations and water from the lower mine adit. The contents had been treated to a neutral PH of 7. The treated water from the sediment pond was being discharged into Elk Creek as part of a planned maintenance activity. A vacuum truck siphoning clear water from the surface of the pond accidentally dipped into gray-colored sediment leading to the accidental discharge of sediment and gray-colored water into Elk Creek. The discharged material contained a mixture of PH-neutral rock slurry and water from the mine.

Based upon the size and content of the spilled material as understood from the EPA, the flow levels downstream, and the 10 million gallon storage reservoir at the town’s treatment plant, the Town Department of Public Works has determined that any impact to the town’s drinking water would be negligible. The town has also hired an independent contractor to perform additional testing to ensure that there is no negative impact to the town watershed or drinking water.

Work on the holding pond is now complete.

The town is communicating and working closely with the EPA on this issue. The EPA has additionally contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Gunnison County and the Coal Creek Watershed Alliance. The town is also in contact with these agencies.

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