From The Farmington Daily Times (Brent Bentsen):
Speaking at the monthly Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee meeting tonight , Eric Frey with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said a lack of baseline data and pre-event comparisons have limited the conclusions monitoring efforts can draw.
Frey said samples taken shortly after the Aug. 5 spill showed the presence of heavy metals, such as aluminum and arsenic, in fish tissue but at levels far below the standards for human consumption. Further tests conducted in March showed toxin levels continued to drop. Frey attributed this decline, however, to the fact that fish are often dormant in the winter and less likely to take up contaminants through feeding and other activities. He said additional tests will shed more light on the issue…
Frey said his department still receives calls from people wondering if it’s safe to fish the world-famous San Juan River near Navajo Dam, even though that stretch of the river was not contaminated by the spill.
And for other local communities, fishing is way of life, rather than recreation.
Rick Nez, president of the San Juan Chapter of the Navajo Nation, said many tribal members used to catch channel catfish in the San Juan River for subsistence. He said that activity has now ground to a halt.
“A lot of people are scared to eat the fish,” he said.
To provide answers moving forward, Frey said the state will continue to conduct tests every six months as part of its long-term monitoring plan.
The efforts will essentially be the first of their kind. Frey said studies in the past have focused on mercury — the most notorious contaminant found in fish. But the 880,000 pounds of heavy metals, such as lead and copper, released from the Gold King Mine present new concerns.
“This was an eye opener and let us know maybe we should be monitoring other heavy metals,” Frey said.