Continuing Coverage: EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Animas River

February 05, 2011
On Aug. 5 the EPA was investigating contamination of this old Colorado mine when it unexpectedly triggered a release of 3 million gallons of toxic waste.

On Aug. 6, 2015 a photo of three men kayaking a bright yellow river in Colorado went viral. The day before the EPA had been investigating an old mine near Silverton, CO, when it breached a dirt dam and sent what turned out to be 3 million gallons of toxic waste downstream.

One look at the photo and you knew this environmental disaster had far reaching impacts. That’s what Navajo Nation President Russell Begay thought when he saw it.

The waste flowed downstream through the Animas and San Juan Rivers that cross into New Mexico and Arizona — water the Navajo people rely on for their crops and livestock. But the EPA neglected to call the Navajo leaders to warn them.

Unfortunately the Navajo people are not strangers to environmental disasters. In 1979 a uranium tailings pond dam breached and dumped 94 million gallons of mill process effluent and 1,100 tons of mill waste into the Puerco River — another source of water for the Navajo. Scientists say the Church Rock spill released more radioactivity than the Three Mile Island accident, which occurred four months earlier. But the Church Rock incident received little media attention and the New Mexico governor refused the tribe’s request to make the site a federal disaster area. A tenacious reporter might have made a difference. The EPA is still cleaning up the Church Rock contamination today.

Laurel Morales covers Native American issues for KJZZ’s Fronteras: The Changing America Desk. She believes it’s her duty to be a watchdog for the Navajo people. Morales’ coverage of the Colorado mine spill continues today, as she is still checking in with Navajo farmers, scientists testing the water for contamination, and the EPA.

Stories contained in this submission:

EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Colorado's Animas River (Aug. 7, 2016)
Navajo President Threatens To Sue EPA Over Mine Spill (Aug. 10, 2015)
Navajo Farmers Watch Crops Dry Up In Wake Of Mine Wastewater Spill (Aug. 11, 2015)
Navajo Farmers Air Frustrations To EPA Over Wastewater Spill (Aug. 13, 2015)
EPA Addresses Wastewater Spill With Community In Farmington, Shiprock (Aug. 13, 2015)
Animas River Opens, San Juan River Remains Closed (Aug. 15, 2015)  
Navajo Nation Farmers Worry About Future Seasons After EPA Spill (Aug. 17, 2015)
Navajo Nation Investigates EPA Water Tanks (Aug. 20, 2015)
Navajo Nation Asks For FEMA Help, While Preparing To Sue EPA (Sept. 3, 2015)
Navajo President Calls On Congress To Hold EPA Accountable For Spill (Sept. 16, 2015)