Navajo farmers and ranchers file civil suit against @EPA and 8 private entities over #GoldKingMine spill #AnimasRiver

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

The civil complaint states that plaintiffs in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado were forced to stop using water from the San Juan River for crop irrigation, livestock watering and household purposes due to contamination from mine waste released on Aug. 5, 2015.

Group members claim crop harvests were lost due to the lack of irrigation and that livestock were unable to graze or drink water from the river. In addition, several ranchers sold livestock at a reduced price due to a decline in the animals’ quality.

The 114-page complaint was filed Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court of New Mexico. It seeks approximately $75 million in damages.

Along with the federal agency, the complaint lists as defendants Environmental Restoration LLC, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc., Sunnyside Gold Corp., Gold King Mines Corp., Weston Solutions Inc., Salem Minerals Inc. and San Juan Corp., which the document describes as either EPA contractors or mine owners…

Kate Ferlic, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a press release today that farmers and ranchers used various resources to try to save their crops and livestock, but to no avail.

“They trucked in water, they hand-carried gallons of water down long dirt roads, some even tried to use their tap water. The spill was a very real crisis for the Navajo people,” Ferlic said.

She added that while each of the 295 plaintiffs filed administrative claims with the EPA, the agency still has not acted on those requests…

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and tribal council Speaker LoRenzo Bates weighed in on the litigation in the press release.

Begaye said the spill was a disaster for the tribe and tribal members.

“The San Juan River has enormous cultural and spiritual significance for our nation in addition to its practical and economic importance. It is our lifeblood. Most of the farmers and ranchers have lived and farmed on these lands for generations,” the president said.

Bates said the spill resulted in farmers being unable to irrigate crops, causing a loss of the harvest, which is the sole source of income for many people.

While some farmers could save their crops by using other sources of water, a stigma developed about water contamination and crops grown in the area, resulting in people not purchasing produce from farmers, he added.

“Our people endured clear and significant losses, and I look forward to the court doing them justice by ordering the EPA and the other responsible parties to pay up for those losses,” Bates said.

@EPA PFAS “community engagement” hearing recap

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Lance Hernandez):

Residents who live in Fountain Valley southeast of Colorado Springs are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the perflourinated compounds which have contaminated their drinking water supplies.

The requests came during a two day “community engagement” event sponsored by the EPA.

“I think this is a big deal,” said Fran Silva-Blayney of the Sierra Club’s Fountain Creek Water Sentinels. “It’s a big deal in terms of bringing public awareness to the issue and in terms of the EPA recognizing that we need to take regulatory action.”

Silva-Blayney said the community wants the EPA to set “maximum contaminant levels.”

[…]

The contamination in the public water supplies of Fountain, Security and Widefield came from firefighting foam, which was used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base.

Health Impact

Several residents and former residents raised questions about the health impact of long-term exposure.

“My father died of kidney cancer last year,” said Mark Favors, a member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition.

Favors told Denver7 that he was born and raised in the valley, and then moved to New York eight years ago.

“My cousin was here yesterday,” he said. “His grandson, at 14 years of age, had to have a kidney replaced, a transplant last year.”

“We would really like to know, do we have hereditary cancers, or do we have environmental cancers?” said Liz Rosenbaum, who founded the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition.

“Summit was amazing”

Rosenbaum said she is encouraged by what’s going on.

“The community wants to be more actively involved,” she said, adding that it’s a way to stay informed.

“When you’re scared, you get angry,” she said, “and if you know what’s going on, you can develop solutions and ideas.”

State health officials say they don’t know yet how widespread the contamination problem is in Colorado.

So far, contamination has been found during tests of public wells in the Fountain Valley, Commerce City and at a fire station on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Boulder County.

“We’re in the initial stages of identifying potential sources in the state,” said Kristy Richardson, an environmental toxicologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We’re looking at all those sources that have been used in industry and manufacturing.”

Advisory limit

The EPA’s advisory limit for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acids (PFOs) and PFAS is 70 parts per trillion.

Residents who attended the EPA’s meetings would like to make it a regulatory standard and much tougher than 70 ppt.

“We have a health advisory for two substances, in a family of 3,000… so we don’t know if we’re removing all of them,” Richardson said. “Residents are very concerned about getting them out (of the water) and making sure they’re not exposed to them anymore.”

From KRCC.org (Jake Brownell):

The Colorado Springs meeting was the third of four community forums scheduled across the country this summer, each hosted by the EPA, to collect feedback from people on the ground dealing with PFAS contamination.

“Understanding and addressing emerging contaminants such as PFAS is difficult, but critically important,” explained Doug Benevento, administrator of EPA Region 8, which includes Colorado and other western states. “The experiences and perspectives shared by state and local officials as well as community groups today, in addition to the numerous members of the public, will be invaluable as EPA develops a plan to manage PFAS.”

PFAS contamination is a growing concern among public health and water management professionals nationwide, with at least 40 states experiencing some form of contamination, according to the Environmental Working Group. The EPA says it has identified the issue as a high priority, and is in the process of developing new rules to regulate contamination levels in drinking water…

“We need regulatory infrastructure in order to, number one, compel investigation and clean up, but also to promote a more consistent approach to addressing PFAS nationwide,” Tracie White of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told EPA officials Wednesday.

Her concern was echoed by members of the public and by those responsible for managing affected drinking water systems, who urged the EPA to establish a legally-binding Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, for the chemicals.

“Health advisories have the same connotations and effect as maximum contaminant levels, but none of the support that an MCL provides,” said Brandon Bernard, water manager for Widefield Water and Sanitation.

For their part, EPA officials didn’t say whether an MCL would be forthcoming, but said the agency is looking at a range of options to regulate the chemicals, including listing them as “Hazardous Substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, otherwise known as Superfund. Jennifer McLain, deputy director of the agency’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, said she couldn’t give a timeline for any future regulatory decisions, but stressed that the agency is “moving as quickly as possible.”

Over the course of the two day forum, residents of Security, Widefield, and Fountain also shared their experiences with contamination in the area. Liz Rosenbaum, who has lived in Security and Widefield for 15 years, spoke on behalf of the grassroots group, Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition…

Many community members also said that they feel they’ve been left out of important discussions about the future of their drinking water, and haven’t been treated as stakeholders in the process.

Still, Rosenbaum said the community forum was a good first step, and that she was encouraged by the dialogue that took place. Going forward, she said she hopes the conversation can continue, so that the “community feels more connected in decision making processes” as the EPA and other agencies work to address the issue of PFAS contamination here in El Paso County and nationwide.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

Over and over, residents and clean water advocates implored the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday evening to set enforceable drinking water standards for the toxic chemicals contaminating their water — and at tighter levels than the agency currently deems acceptable.

Their pleas came during the EPA’s third stop in a nationwide tour meant to help its leaders create a management plan for the toxic chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds. It marked the first opportunity in more than two years for people affected by the toxic chemicals to sound off to the EPA on the contamination of their drinking water.

Many argued that the EPA’s response was past due.

His voice cracking, Mark Favors, 49, listed several family members who drank the water most of their lives and have since died, many from kidney cancer. He read the obituary of one, Shelton Lee King, a retired master sergeant who served in Vietnam and died in 2012 of kidney cancer…

The EPA’s current process for regulating chemicals does not call for instituting any new drinking water standards for perfluorinated compounds until 2021.

Jennifer McLain, the agency’s deputy director in charge of groundwater and drinking water, said the agency is trying to accelerate that process, though she gave no timeline for when that might happen.

“We are working as quickly as we can,” McLain said.

So far, the EPA has only committed to evaluate the need for an enforceable drinking water standard for the two best-known types of perfluorinated compounds: perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

The EPA also is seeking to propose that those two chemicals be classified as “hazardous substances,” easing the process for seeking Superfund cleanup funding. And it is seeking to develop groundwater cleanup recommendations for both chemicals.

In addition, the agency is working to set toxicity levels for two other types of perfluorinated compounds. Neither was included in a different agency’s recent list of possibly dangerous chemicals.

The EPA’s management plan is due out by the end of the year.

From Colorado Public Radio (Anne Marie Awad):

Water managers for the El Paso County communities of Security, Widefield, Stratmore Hills, and Fountain have been working to rid their drinking water systems of Perfluorinated Chemicals since 2016. The contamination, discovered that year, traces back to firefighting foam used at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.
“Fifty years from now, 100 years from now, the Widefield Aquifer will still be contaminated if we don’t figure out a way to clean it,” said Fran Silva-Blayney, chair of the Sierra Club Fountain Creek Water Sentinels. “Is remediation even possible?”

Silva-Blayney was one of a handful of community stakeholders invited to speak at a listening session organized by the Environmental Protection Agency. Her comments and others carried the same message: the EPA isn’t doing enough.

“We are past the point of evaluating, proposing and recommending,” Silva-Balyney said. “People’s lives have been compromised. It’s time to regulate, enforce and remediate.”

In a statement, EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento said the community listening session would “inform our path forward in addressing PFAS in communities here in Colorado Springs and across the country.” Regulations are under consideration that would create an enforceable drinking water standard for two of the most common PFCs — mainly PFOS and PFOA.

Right now, EPA has an advisory in place, which isn’t enforceable. Water districts in the area have chosen, voluntarily, to make sure drinking water has no more than 70 parts per trillion of the chemicals. The agency could also classify certain PFCs as hazardous, and they’re developing groundwater cleanup recommendations if contamination is found.

@EPA seeks to dismiss #GoldKingMine lawsuits — @HighCountryNews #AnimasRiver

Cement Creek photo via the @USGS Twitter feed

From The High Country News (Jodi Peterson):

BACKSTORY

On Aug. 5, 2015, Environmental Protection Agency workers at the long-abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, accidentally released 3 million gallons of acidic water. The orange plume, laden with iron, zinc, cadmium and arsenic, flowed into the Animas River, then on into New Mexico and Utah (“Silverton’s Gold King Reckoning,” HCN, 5/2/16). Those two states and the Navajo Nation filed lawsuits seeking to recoup millions of dollars in cleanup costs from the EPA.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

FOLLOWUP

In late July, the EPA filed a motion to dismiss the combined lawsuits. The agency says that court intervention is unnecessary because it’s already working on cleaning up the mess — the Gold King and 47 other mine sites got Superfund status in 2016. The EPA ran out of room for storing the sludge waste from water treatment, and in mid-June, workers began moving it to a controversial new site northeast of Silverton. Critics say that location endangers fish, and in early July, a sludge truck crashed, spilling 9 cubic yards into a creek. The EPA is still working on a long-term cleanup plan for the Superfund sites in the Upper Animas watershed.

This Is What @POTUS’s Fuel Economy Rollback Means for the #Climate #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Rush hour on Interstate 25 near Alameda. Screen shot The Denver Post March 9, 2017.

From Earther (Brian Kahn):

The plan calls for 2020 fuel-efficiency standards to be frozen in place through 2026 while sorting out what a new rule could look like, as well as ending California’s ability to set its own, more stringent standards. The end result will be a huge uptick in carbon emissions.

The Obama rules were made in 2012 after consultation with the auto industry and would have increased car fuel-efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2026. The new proposal—announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation—would freeze efficiency standards at 43.7 mpg through model year 2026.

California has the ability to set even stricter standards for auto emissions, thanks to a waiver the EPA granted the state in 2013. There are a dozen other states that follow those standards as well. Revoking that waiver, despite the EPA commitment to “cooperative federalism,” is an, uh, odd move.

Robbie Orvis, an analyst with policy research group Energy Innovation, told Earther that revoking California’s waiver is “not in the spirit of the Clean Air Act, and the way it’s been implemented in the past.”

On an existential front, the new rule proposal will commit a hell of a lot more carbon to the atmosphere. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that it will result in an extra 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere in 2030. That’s the equivalent of adding 30 coal-fired power plants to the grid.

Because people are likely to hang onto their cars for many years, the impacts would continue to play out beyond 2030. An analysis by Energy Innovation found that by 2035, U.S. transportation emissions will be 11 percent higher than they would be if the Obama-era standards and California’s waiver were kept in place.

The move will also put the U.S. behind the curve globally. While our weirdo climate-denying president obviously doesn’t care about the atmosphere or having a habitable planet, other countries do. And they’ve responded by putting in place stringent fuel efficiency standards, including many based on those in California.

The rollback ensures that the U.S. will be spinning its wheels on climate while the rest of the world forges ahead. That could have very real impacts on the fate of U.S. automakers viability and profits as they produce a wider range of cars. It could also inspire countries to be less ambitious.

“The top vehicle standards in the rest of the world are in line with existing standards,” Orvis said, referring to the Obama-era standards. “Undoing this will make U.S. automakers less competitive with automakers in other markets who are moving ahead making more efficient vehicles. It’s moving us in the wrong direction and making us less competitive with the rest of the world.”

@EPA To Hold PFAS Community Engagement in Colorado Springs

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Starting on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold the third PFAS community engagement event in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This two-day public event allows EPA to hear directly from Colorado communities, Mountain West states, and local and tribal partners about their experiences with PFAS.
WHAT: Colorado Springs PFAS Community Engagement

WHEN: Tuesday, August 7, 2018: Listening Session
4:00 PM MST — 10:00 PM (MST)
Wednesday, August 8, 2018: Working Session
9:45 AM — 12:00 PM (MST)
WHERE: Hotel Eleganté Conference & Event Center
2886 S. Circle Dr.
Colorado Springs, CO 80906

The Colorado community engagement event will consist of two sessions — a public listening session and PFAS working session — to hear from the public; provide tools to assist states, tribes, and local communities in addressing challenges with PFAS in the environment; and understand ways EPA can best support the work that’s being done at the state, local, and tribal level.

Both days are open to the public and press. If you are interested in attending the event, please register here: https://www.epa.gov/pfas/forms/pfas-community-engagement-colorado-springs-co. Those interested in speaking should also select the option to speak while registering.

Background

PFAS is a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in everyday products since the 1940s. But PFAS compounds also can enter the environment, raising concerns about the potential environmental and health risks.

Addressing PFAS is a national priority. At the National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. in May, EPA announced the following four-step action plan:

  • EPA will initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. We will convene our federal partners and examine everything we know about PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
  • EPA is beginning the necessary steps to propose designating PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially CERCLA Section 102.
  • EPA is currently developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites and will complete this task by fall of this year.
  • EPA is taking action in close collaboration with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS by this summer.
  • EPA has conducted similar engagements with communities impacted by PFAS in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and will be headed to North Carolina next month. These events are critical to understand ways the Agency can best support the work that’s being done at the state, local, and tribal levels. Using information from the National Leadership Summit, community engagement events, and public input provided by the docket, EPA plans to develop a PFAS Management Plan for release later this year.
    To learn more about PFAS, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/pfas

    South Adams County Water and Sanitation shuts down 3 wells citing PFC pollution

    Typical water well

    From 9News.com (Allison Sylte):

    A news release about the contamination was distributed on Friday morning. This comes after the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District found perfluorinated compounds (commonly known as PFCs) in water samples from certain shallow groundwater wells. These chemicals are known to pose significant health risks if people are exposed to them – especially expectant mothers and young children.

    Now, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and the Tri-County Health Department are working to find the source of the contamination.

    However, health officials say the water distributed to the 50,000 customers in the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District is safe after three wells with the highest concentration of the PFC chemicals were shut down earlier this month. This means the district is taking 40 percent of its water supply from Denver rather than the usual 20 percent.

    The concern now, according to South Adams County Water and Sanitation District Water Systems Manager Kipp Scott, are private wells and the people who use them – which is what prompted the advisory to the public in the first place.

    “When we find something that is of a concern like this, we notify the health department,” Scott said. “The concern is, we are treating for that chemical here and removing it to levels below the health advisory, but the concern is with other people that maybe using wells that are not on our system and supplied water by our district.

    Scott said some wells tested positive for PFCs in May. When that happened, they tested the treatment process – and results took five weeks to come back. Next came contact with the health department.

    Brian Hlavacek, the director of environmental health at the Tri-County Health Department, issued a statement to 9NEWS that said:

    “Tri-County Health Department is working closely with EPA, CDPHE and SACWSD to identify the extent and source of contamination. TCHD is working to identify private drinking water wells in the initial area of investigation in order to sample for PFC’s. Sampling could begin as early as next week as we identify any wells. Residents who receive their water from a private drinking water well, are near this area, and are concerned about PFC levels can call Tri-County Health Department at 303-288-6816 or email questions to ehwater@tchd.org.”

    Summitville Mine Superfund Site update: #Colorado to take over project for $2 million a year

    Summitville Mine superfund site

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    After 27 years of EPA control, Colorado is preparing to take over the full financial burden — a forever bill for $2 million a year — of a high-mountain cyanide gold mine that became one of the West’s worst environmental disasters.

    The re-shaping of ravaged alpine tundra at the Summitville Mine through a $250 million federal Superfund cleanup stands out because scores of other toxic mines in Colorado still are contaminating headwaters of western rivers each day.

    But this fix requires constant work. Colorado must pay the $2 million, a bill that the EPA has been handling, starting in 2021 for cleaning a fluctuating flow of up to 2,100 gallons a minute of toxic water that drains down a once-pristine mountainside.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will use the money to run a silver-domed $18 million industrial water treatment plant built at 11,500 feet elevation in a wild and spectacular valley, surrounded by snow-splotched jagged peaks.

    The plant houses huge stainless-steel vats of burbling brown sludge. Toxic metals are chemically coaxed and filtered out. Plant operators haul 4.1 million pounds a year of concentrated waste back up South Mountain (elevation 12,550 feet) in trucks for burial. This muck contains more than 690,000 pounds of cadmium, lead, copper, aluminum, iron, manganese and zinc. It is toxic metal that otherwise would flow down and degrade the Wightman Fork of the Alamosa River.

    Colorado also must oversee the artificial covering and drainage ditches across 1,100 acres of tundra scarred by open-pit mining. Mountainsides ripped and slashed to remove gold and silver have been re-contoured by contractors using bulldozers, and re-planted with native vegetation — the engineering equivalent of plastic surgery to make the place look as good as possible…

    The hand-off of responsibility for Summitville from the EPA to CDPHE in 2021 will mark a turning point in dealing with a severely damaged landscape using the nation’s Superfund system for handling disasters.

    This project was set in motion before Congress in 1995 killed automatic funding for Superfund cleanups.

    Complete restoration to a pre-existent state is considered impossible and the government aimed at best-possible repairs.

    “That was what the EPA and the state worked to do: bring it back to a sustainable protected state. Once there is mining in an area, it has long-term impact,” said Fran Costanzi, an EPA official who managed the Summitville cleanup for four years. “We worked to bring water quality back and also the vegetation into a long-term stable state.”

    An EPA spokesman issued a statement placing Summitville “among the more illustrious, or perhaps infamous, examples of the environmental damage a large mining operation can cause when resources for safely managing contamination sources disappear. The EPA’s initial response was an emergency situation in which the site was literally abandoned by the operator — in winter-time conditions — with a cyanide heap leach pad eroding into a headwaters stream.

    “After years of work and investment, we’ve essentially reclaimed a watershed in one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Protecting those gains will continue to require our attention.”

    Alamosa River. Photo credit: Wenck

    The cleanup improved water quality to where fish can live in Terrace Reservoir, about five miles below the mine, and in the Alamosa River.

    CDPHE officials now are required to monitor conditions.

    The financial burden falls to Colorado because the Superfund process shifts responsibility to states after initial federal remediation. Colorado lawmakers have arranged to pay about $2 million a year by tapping revenue derived from fees paid at municipal and other landfills around the state…

    At Summitville, Rio Grande County eventually will own the 1,100-acre site. State and county officials have been setting up placards conveying the history of mining in the area with an emphasis on environmental damage and evolving efforts to repair harm.