What Do Abandoned Mines Mean For Our Health, Environment?

Published: Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 3:26pm
Updated: Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 3:34pm

The Gold King Mine spill near Silverton, Colorado, in 2015 shed a light on the dangers of abandoned mines. The EPA-controlled mine released tons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, which affected waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and here in Arizona, on the Navajo Nation.

But that was just one abandoned mine among hundreds of thousands.

Just this week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the indictment of Bagdad Hillside LLC for allegedly discharging arsenic-contaminated water from an abandoned mine into a recreational creek in Yavapai County.

The Attorney General’s Office said the water flowing from the abandoned mine contained arsenic levels more than 100 times the water quality standard.

How common are abandoned mines like these? And what can they mean for our health and environment? For more on that, we got a hold of Bruce Rittmann, director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

What about the enforcement side of this? What’s being done to stop these kinds of leaks?

We also reached out to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about this. They were the agency that inspected this abandoned Hillside Mine and found the problem in 2013.

They told me they have a program to identify abandoned mines, which includes ranking them according to their risk of leaking, so they can prevent and stop leaks like this.

In this particular case in Yavapai County, they said they’ve been working with landowners in the area for more than a decade to stop the metals being released into Boulder Creek. And this company that’s been indicted, Bagdad Hillside LLC is the last remaining contributor.

Now they’re hoping the Attorney General’s Office can reach a remedy in court.

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