SANTA FE, N.M., Aug. 17 (UPI) — The Navajo Nation filed a negligence lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for the 3 million gallons of metal-contaminated sludge that poured into the Animas River and turned it yellow last year.
During an EPA inspection last August, toxic water from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., was unintentionally released into the Animas River and its tributaries. The acidic water — contaminated with lead, arsenic, zinc, iron, copper, mercury and other heavy metals — broke free of a barrier of unconsolidated debris.
In the lawsuit, the Navajo Nation alleges the EPA failed to properly respond to the environmental disaster. The Navajo Nation said the EPA failed to compensate thousands of farmers whose livelihoods depend on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Animas River in New Mexico and Utah that runs through the Navajo Nation.
“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,” said the lawsuit filed in a New Mexico U.S. District Court. “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.”
The lawsuit alleges the EPA, its contractors and the mining companies that operated at the Gold King Mine ignored hundreds of thousands of pounds of contaminants over the years while failing to follow “reasonable and necessary precautions” to avoid the breach.
The EPA recently said surface water in Colorado and in the San Juan River returned to “pre-event conditions,” adding that the water is safe for recreation, agriculture and irrigation. The Navajo Nation said it is concerned with the long-term health consequences caused by heavy metals settling into the river’s sediment upstream of the Navajo Nation. Heavy rains and melting snow could cause heavy metals to rise from the sediment, which could be sent downstream.