Recently, an EPA approved contractor working at an abandoned Colorado mine mistakenly unleashed a deluge of contaminated water into the Animas River. Television news reports revealed a noxious plume of mustard-colored water making its way towards a block of western states, including New Mexico and Arizona. The dank surge contained levels of heavy metals far above those acceptable by today’s environmental standards. Toxic metals comprising the spill included:
Downstream domestic water consumers were cautioned against tap water usage. Fears that the mishap could affect Grand Canyon tourism caused panic among state officials, as well as environmental activists. Colorado’s nearly 14,000 mines are now the target of negotiations to clean up the damage of a bygone era, when mining flourished in a state that is now focused on recreational wilderness preservation.
Although, toxic chemical levels in the river water have taken a relatively short time to decrease, no one is quite certain what the ongoing dangers of this disaster and other similar ones may pose. The need for environmental remediation has led top officials to consider a “Superfund designation” to make federal financial assets available for cleanup purposes, but acceptance of the idea is far from a sure thing. Many are uncertain if this method of funding acquisition is a viable, since federal intervention was at the heart of this current crisis.
Remediation of toxic lead contaminants, in particular, is considered a Superfund priority, since lead in nearly any quantity poses serious risks to human health, particularly that of children and pregnant women.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency,
“EPA’s risk assessment for lead is unique because a Reference Dose (RfD) value for lead is not available. An RfD is typically derived from a concentration below which no adverse effects have been observed. Existing evidence indicates that adverse health effects occur even at very low exposures to lead (e.g., subtle neurological effects in children have been observed at low doses).”