Aug 18, 2016 - Navajo Nation Sues EPA over Gold King Mine Spill

After one of the most significant environmental catastrophes in history, the Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected or their way of life restored.” Navajo lawsuit against the EPA

One year after 3 million gallons of water contaminated with heavy metals polluted the Animas and San Juan rivers, the Navajo Nation is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for negligence in cleaning up the disaster.

On August 5th, 2015, environmental crew workers for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado to pump out and treat contaminated water from the mine. While using heavy equipment to enter the mine a massive leak erupted sending an estimated 3 million gallons of water contaminated with heavy metals into the Animas River. The waste-water contained high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, zinc, iron and copper.

The Navajo Nation, which is downstream from the spill declared a state of emergency. The Animas and San Juan Rivers are major sources of drinking water for the Navajo and surrounding residents.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, claims that the EPA failed to adequately address and clean up the 880,000 pounds of heavy metals the leaked into the Animus river watershed.

The lawsuit further states, “Despite repeatedly conceding responsibility for the action that caused millions of dollars of harm to the Nation and the Navajo people, the U.S. EPA has yet to provide any meaningful recovery. Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays, and second-guessing. Unfortunately this is consistent with a long history of neglect and disregard for the well being of the Navajo.”

At a press conference Ethel Branch, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation, stated, “The river has always been a source of life, of purification, and of healing. Now it’s been transformed into something that’s a threat. It’s been pretty traumatic in changing the role of the river in the lives of the people who rely on it. We’re not going to know the health impacts of the exposure to the water for five to 10 years — maybe more. And it’s not just direct exposure, the community is also concerned about eating food that’s been watered with contaminated water, or eating livestock that has consumed the water. From the very beginning, the EPA tried to shift the conversation to the overwhelming nature of dealing with abandoned hard rock mines in the West, in my view to dilute the significance of what occurred and the need for them to be accountable and to clean up the contamination or address it in some way.”

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