#AnimasRiver: Lead pollution at Bonita Peak Mining District superfund site

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

This lead and dozens of other contaminants are spreading beyond waste-rock piles into surrounding “halos” where they are absorbed by plants and then can be ingested by bugs and transferred from the insects to birds to, ultimately, mammals. EPA officials said tissue samples from deer will be tested to assess ecological harm.

“You start to understand the scope of the environmental problem and how long this is going to take,” EPA Superfund project chief Rebecca Thomas said after a town hall meeting this week in Silverton. “It is pretty overwhelming.

“We don’t really have an active mining industry in this state anymore. Yet we still see so many impacts. And we’re just looking at the Bonita Peak Mining District in the San Juan Mountains. Think how much more widespread it is across the Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big problem. It’s going to take many years to solve it — and a lot of money.”

The lead, measured at concentrations up to 5,000 parts per million, surfaced in the latest round of sampling and study that were spurred by a federal declaration last year of a Superfund environmental disaster linked to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow through three states.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said Superfund cleanups will be the EPA’s priority, even as he and other Republicans push to trim the agency’s $8 billion budget, because Americans deserve to have environmental harm fixed as required by law.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A recent Denver Post article is being called misleading and inaccurate for overstating the risks to wildlife from mine contamination around a Superfund site near Silverton.

“The statement that EPA crews found that lead is threatening birds and animals is not accurate,” Environmental Protection Agency project manager Rebecca Thomas wrote in an email Friday. “The terrestrial risk assessment is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.”

Around 7 p.m. Thursday, The Denver Post sent a “Breaking News Alert” for a story titled “EPA crews working on Gold King cleanup find elevated lead threatening birds, animals and, potentially, people.”

In the story, the Post draws the conclusion based on a presentation the EPA gave Monday, in which the agency said preliminary sampling of soils around the Superfund site found levels of lead at some locations at 5,000 parts per million.

The Post said these levels are 100 times higher than “danger thresholds for wildlife.”

However, EPA had said this data had not been validated.

“The statement regarding ‘danger thresholds’ for wildlife in The Denver Post story is misleading,” Thomas said. “At this point, we are looking at very conservative screening values in assessing potential risk.”

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir, a former miner and geologist who is quoted in the Post article, also took issue with the story.

“I tried to explain that to (the reporter) and he just didn’t get it,” Fetchenheir said. “He had his mind made up there’s going to be lead problems.”

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