EPA crews find elevated lead levels while working on Gold King mine cleanup | AspenTimes.com

EPA crews find elevated lead levels while working on Gold King mine cleanup

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post

Metals-laced water flows out from waste rock at the Red and Bonita Mine toward Cement Creek headwaters of the Animas River at the rate of about 300 gallons per minute. San Juan County officials say some of the mineral elements in this stream could be naturally occurring from a "fen." A bulkhead plug installed in the mine has not been closed due to concerns this could force out worse leaks from other nearby mines.

SILVERTON – A little toxic-lead pollution in Colorado's mountains lasts long after jobs go away.

Environmental Protection Agency crews conducting Superfund cleanup-prep investigations along Animas River headwaters revealed this week that they've found contamination at century-old mine sites at levels 100 times higher than danger thresholds for wildlife.

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 to discuss cleanup around the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. "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."

For more on this story, go to the denverpost.com.

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