DENVER — It turns out the Environmental Protection Agency knew about the risk of a blowout from the Gold King Mine more than a year before orange toxic sludge flooded the Animas River in southwest Colorado.
The EPA released documents late Friday showing that the agency had been warned in a work order for a planned cleanup about the potential for such an accident in June 2014, or about 14 months before the Aug. 5 spill triggered by an EPA-led team.
“Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals,” said the work order.
The revelation comes as a House committee prepares to hold hearings on the disastrous Aug. 5 blowout that sent toxic sludge into three states and two Indian reservations.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith called Friday on EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to testify before the panel on the wastewater spill triggered by an EPA-led crew.
“After spilling millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Animas River, the EPA has an obligation to be forthcoming about what went wrong and potential long-term impacts on local communities,” said Mr. Smith, Texas Republican.
SEE ALSO: Gina McCarthy called to testify on Animas River toxic spill
The agency has come under fire for waiting 24 hours before notifying state and local authorities about the Aug. 5 blowout at the inactive mine.
“Weeks after the spill, families and businesses who depend on the Animas River continue to deal with uncertainty and limited information,” Mr. Smith said in a statement. “As the agency entrusted by the American people to protect the environment and ensure the nation’s waters are clean, the EPA should be held to the highest standard.”
“The Science Committee needs to hear from the EPA about steps it is taking to repair the damage and to prevent this from ever occurring again,” he said.
Ms. McCarthy has apologized on the agency’s behalf after EPA contractors accidentally uncorked three million gallons of toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, which quickly spread to northern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
The mine continues to leak about 600 gallons of orange wastewater per minute, which is being captured in sediment pools and treated before being released, according to EPA officials.
The EPA’s advance warning of such a spill prompted a rebuke Saturday from Advancing Colorado’s Jonathan Lockwood.
SEE ALSO: Mine’s owner says he tried to keep out EPA but was threatened with fines
“The dangerous, reckless and aloof EPA is proving it doesn’t deserve our hard-earned money or belong in the driver’s seat of environmental policy,” said Mr. Lockwood, executive director of the free-market advocacy group.
The Interior Department and EPA’s Office of Inspector General are investigating the accident.