New Mexico sues EPA, mine owners over massive gold mine waste spill

by Reuters
Monday, 23 May 2016 22:03 GMT

By Dan Whitcomb

May 23 (Reuters) - New Mexico sued the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, an agency contractor and two mining companies on Monday over the 2015 breach of an abandoned Colorado gold mine that spilled some 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into three states.

The Gold King Mine spill, which was accidentally triggered by EPA inspection team called to the mine to inspect an existing seepage, unleashed a torrent of yellow sludge which contained high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement issued with the 51-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that the discharge left behind widespread environmental damage and caused substantial economic harm to residents, farmers and local businesses for which the state has not been compensated.

"The release of hazardous substances into waters that are the lifeblood of our economy and culture in New Mexico has had a devastating impact on our historical rural, agricultural and tribal communities," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement announcing the court action.

The lawsuit, which names the EPA, its contractor Environmental Restoration and the Kinross Gold Corp and Sunnyside Gold Corporation, seeks reimbursement for cleanup costs as well as damages and a court order requiring that the defendants take steps to prevent future such spills.

Representatives for the EPA, Missouri-based Environmental Restoration and the two mining companies, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Colorado and New Mexico both declared state of emergencies over the spill from the century-old Gold King Mine near the town of Silverton, which fouled the San Juan River and its northern tributary, the Animas River.

Residents living downstream from the mine were advised to avoid drinking or bathing in water drawn from wells in the vicinity and two Colorado municipalities, including the city of Durango, and the New Mexico towns of Aztec and Farmington temporarily shut off their river intakes.

Utah was the third state affected by the spill.

Colorado has more than 4,000 abandoned mines, about 1,100 of them around Silverton, according to American Rivers, which calls those sites "ticking time bombs." (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, editing by G Crosse)

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