The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to add Colorado Animas River sites to a priority list of disasters eligible for Superfund cleanup as a way to deal with inactive mine that can potentially contaminate waterways.
The wastewater spill from the Gold King mine raised attention to the issue and the cluster of 48 mining sites in area are expected eventually to find a spot on the National Priorities List of the nation's worst disasters threatening public health and the environment.
But the EPA's process requires this first step, followed by a period for comments. There's no guarantee listed sites would receive funding for cleanup, The Denver Post reported.
The EPA's role causing the Aug. 5 Gold King disaster won't be a factor in how fast cleanup is done on the Animas in what officials are calling the "Bonita Peak Mining District." An EPA crew botched work at the Gold King, triggering a blowout, a 3 million-gallon torrent of acidic, metals-laced drainage that temporarily turned the river mustard yellow.
"The agency will follow the same process at the Bonita Peak Mining District as for all other proposed NPL sites," spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said.
The priorities list serves as a basis for enforcement actions against potentially responsible polluters and for securing cleanup funds. For 35 years, the Superfund program has run on the principle that polluters should pay for cleanups, defraying costs to taxpayers. EPA officials hunt for parties legally responsible for contaminating a site and try to compel them to cover cleanup costs.
The EPA also added five previously-proposed sites to the list — disasters in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey and New Mexico where contamination may degrade drinking water, groundwater, soil, wetlands, and fishing. Seven other sites were proposed, including the Argonaut mining site in California.
Contaminants found at the Colorado and around the nation include: arsenic, mercury, uranium, cadmium, copper, manganese, zinc, aluminum, chromium, lead, trichloroethane and trichloroethylene.
There are 1,714 sites on the priority list, EPA records show. Cleanups have started at 1,580 sites. Under the Superfund program, cleanups have been completed at 391 sites, which were removed from the list.
For mining, the list included 137 mining or mineral processing sites, and cleanups were partially completed at 51 mining or processing sites.