EPA releases internal report into Gold King Mine spill disaster

From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examine conditions on the San Juan River last week. Photo from Navajo Nation President / Facebook

The Environmental Protection Agency released an internal report about the Gold King Mine spill on Wednesday.

According to the report, contractors at the site underestimated the water pressure at the mine. As a result, excavation work accidentally caused a "blowout" on August 5, unleashing about 3 millions of gallons of toxic mine waste into the water system.

"The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the entrance blockage seems to be a primary issue at this particular site," the report stated. "If the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered. However, the team cannot determine whether any such steps would have been effective, or could have been implemented prior to a blowout."

The report is the first government-led assessment of the incident, which prompted the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute Tribe, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to declare emergencies and issue disaster declarations. Water conditions immediately after the spill showed high levels of mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins.

The scene of the spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. Photo from EPA

Conditions on the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico have since improved. But Navajo leaders refuse to lift restrictions on the use of the San Juan out of concern for agricultural crops and livestock.

The Office of Inspector General at the EPA is also reviewing the incident and the Interior Department has launched a review at EPA's request.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on September 16 in Washington, D.C., to address the impacts of the spill on the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Tribe.

Get the Story:
Talks continue about reopening irrigation system on Navajo Nation (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/27)
Investigation: EPA, state missed potential for mine blowout (AP 8/27)
‘Insufficient’ planning cited in EPA investigation of Gold King Mine spill (The Durango Herald 8/27)
Wildlife officials survey Animas River fish in wake of Gold King Mine spill (The Durango Herald 8/27)
Navajo Nation committee hears irrigation concerns from chapter officials (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/26)
Navajo Nation President reinforces San Juan River restrictions (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/25)
Legal experts say they need more time to determine mine spill fallout (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/24)
Shiprock Chapter opposes irrigation activities (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/22)

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Senate Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearing on EPA mine spill (8/26)
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Navajo Nation remains cautious after spill impacts water system (8/21)
Navajo Nation farmers losing crops amid mine spill concerns (8/18)
Leader of EPA visits Navajo Nation after mine spill in Colorado (8/13)
President of Navajo Nation upset with EPA's response to spill (8/12)
Navajo Leader: 'This is an assault on who we are as Dine people' (8/11)
Navajo Nation to sue EPA over release of mine waste into waters (8/10)

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