Mines out of Time

In early August, three million gallons of heavy metal-laden water slipped out of an orphan mine and into the Animas River. The spill, for several days, was Tropicana-obvious. (DISCLAIMER: This is not a Fool’s Gold column. I want to spare you feeling like you’re not getting the jokes.)

animas river cropped

You might have heard about this catastrophe on the news. But you might not have heard that the spill was not isolated, and it was not new. Even prior to the publicized spill, 800 gallons a minute poured consistently out of the mouths of orphan mines near Silverton in southwestern Colorado. That’s over 1 million gallons of wastewater per day containing zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, aluminum and manganese flowing down Cement Creek into the Animas.

I covered this situation for the New Mexico Mercury in 2013, but the spill spurred me to revisit the mines and clarify some of the misconceptions spreading faster than the orange plume. Both the Santa Fe Reporter and The Durango Telegraph ran similar pieces updating my research with current events. (The links lead straight to the stories.)

Of course, since the stories ran last week, circumstances have developed. The Animas River is now open for recreation in Colorado, but with posted health advisories. The plume is no longer visible, though the riverbanks near where I live are still dusted with rust. And the long-term effects are still unknowable.


(Photo credit: EPA.)


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