EPA Had Warning of Gold King Mine Disaster

We have written about the EPA’s Gold King Mine environmental disaster here, here and here. The EPA and its contractor negligently spilled three million gallons of toxic liquid contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum into the Animas River. It is the kind of incident that, if it had been caused by a private company instead of a government agency, likely would have led to criminal charges:


In the aftermath of the spill, the agency has been slow to communicate with farmers, Indian tribes and other affected parties. Its lack of transparency has frustrated news organizations, too. The Associated Press reports that it has been trying to pry documents relating to the Gold King Mine spill out of the EPA for weeks. Late yesterday, the first batch of documents was finally released:

EPA released the documents following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations.

According to the AP, the documents include a plan for the intended work by the EPA’s contractor, and a warning from that contractor against exactly the disaster that ultimately unfolded:

Among the documents is a June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup that noted that 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. “ln addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. 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 subsequent May 2015 action plan for the mine also notes the potential for a blowout.

Apparently the documents do not explain why the EPA seems to have ignored these prescient warnings.

The AP is openly frustrated with the agency’s lack of transparency and responsiveness:

Elected officials in affected states and elsewhere have been highly critical of the EPA’s initial response. Among the unanswered questions is why it took the agency nearly a day to inform local officials in downstream communities that rely on the rivers for drinking water.

Much of the text in the documents released Friday was redacted by EPA officials. Among the items blacked out is the line in a 2013 safety plan for the Gold King job that specifies whether workers were required to have phones that could work at the remote site, which is more than 11,000 feet up a mountain.

EPA did not immediately respond Friday night to questions from the AP. In the wake of the spill, it has typically taken days to get any detailed response from the agency, if at all.

If you want competence, proper concern for public welfare, transparency and accountability, rely on private industry, not government.