A contractor working on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caused a second spill in Colorado on Oct. 6.
HDR Inc. confirmed that it was the prime contractor working on the Standard Mine in Crested Butte during a wastewater spill. The Denver Post reported that the contractor triggered the release in a small-scale repeat of the Gold King Mine disaster in August.
The EPA initially estimated 2,000 gallons were spilled at the Standard Mine on Oct. 6, but later said the release was closer to 500 or 600 gallons.
The spill happened after a vacuum truck siphon dropped into the sediment layer near the bottom of a treatment pond, leading to the unintended release. Impacts on Crested Butte are expected to be minimal.
The Durango Herald was the first to report HDR Inc. was the contractor. The company deferred comment on the situation to the EPA.
The contractor revelation is significant because it shows Environmental Restoration LLC, which was operating at the Gold King when the spill there happened, was not also responsible for the Standard Mine site.
It also shows two EPA contractors have been acting on behalf of the agency during mine spills in the past three months. Critics have again pounced on the EPA after the spill in Crested Butte, saying it raises further questions about the agency's procedures in such incident.
The EPA says HDR Inc. subtracted to Harrison Western. Harrison Western then subcontracted to Southwestern Systems Inc. for the vacuum truck operations.
EPA work at the Standard Mine was halted after the Aug. 5 Gold King blowout above Silverton — pending an EPA review of procedures at old mines. The Standard Mine work resumed Sept. 5.
The Standard Mine, five miles west of Crested Butte and abandoned, has been designated an environmental disaster since 2005 and targeted for a Superfund cleanup. It is one of an estimated 230 inactive mines in Colorado that state officials know to be leaking toxic heavy metals into headwaters of the nation's rivers.