Friday Night Dump: EPA Knew Gold King Could Blow But Didn’t Have a Backup Plan

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The EPA released Gold King Mine documents in a Friday night dump – at 10:30 EDT. They hope that isn’t viewed suspiciously. Seriously, the spokesperson said she hopes people don’t think they’re hiding anything.

“I do not want people to think we put something out late at night to hide something,” Melissa Harrison said.

They probably would have released the documents earlier but they had to doctor them up (just a little levity here).

The dump included 92 pages of documents including a safety report of the Gold King Mine spill which dumped at least 3 million gallons of toxic metals into the Animas River and traveled as far as Lake Powell which supplies water to much of the West.

The big news, aside from some key facts being redacted, is that the EPA knew there could be a catastrophic blowout and their preparation in the event of a spill was, so far as we know, a three line statement:

Locate the source and stop the flow if it could be done safely, begin containment and recovery of the spilled materials, and alert downstream sanitary districts and drinking water systems as needed.

They certainly didn’t do the last one. They waited almost a full day before telling anyone and only then when the Navajos spotted it.

There was no description of what happened before the mine blew.

The AP, other media outlets, and political officials have been after the EPA to release the documents but they waited until late Friday.

Some key information was redacted such as a March 2015 cost estimate for the work by a contractor at Gold King and whether workers were required to have phones in the remote location of the mine.

The river is returning to pre-spill conditions but experts warn that the heavy metals have likely sunk and can be stirred up during an event such as bad weather. The spill put extraordinary amounts of arsenic, lead, thallium, beryllium and other toxic metals into the drinking water for thousands of people and livestock, water which is also used for farm irrigation.

The mine is still leaking and the EPA has built ponds to serve as catchment and filtering areas.

gold king mine ponds

It’s unclear as to how much toxic water is still leaking but as of Wednesday it was about 600 gallons per minute. That’s as bad as it’s been.

The documents showing the EPA knew of the potential blowout included a June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup that noted the old mine had not been accessible since 1995, when the entrance partially collapsed.

“This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse,” the report says. “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.”

A May 2015 action plan for the mine also noted the potential for a blowout.

EPA supervisor Hays Griswold was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5th and told The Denver Post in an interview that the plan in place “couldn’t have worked.”

What plan?

He said conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

Maybe they had an additional backup plan they didn’t release.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” Hays said. They were using a backhoe when the mine blew.

“All that was holding it back was the dirt. The dirt just wasn’t going to hold,” Griswold said.

He didn’t explain why they didn’t consider that as a possibility beforehand. He didn’t explain why they didn’t do borings beforehand and didn’t know the levels.  It sounds like they were just winging it but there’s not enough information.

Sources: AP Big Story and Denver Post