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Tipsheet

Navajo Nation Goes To War With EPA, Files Negligence Lawsuit Over Toxic Animas River Spill

Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to let 3 million gallons of hazardous waste water from the decades-long abandoned Gold King Mine enter the Animas River in Colorado. The river is connected to the San Juan River and Colorado River that flow into the neighboring states of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. The preventable disaster was part of an EPA cleanup operation. The agency knew the mine carried a “blowout” risk, but proceeded anyway.

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As a result, arsenic and lead levels rose to 300 and 3,500 times normal levels respectively in the water. It turned the water orange. The initial estimate to clean up the spill was between $338 million to $27 billion. The Navajo Nation, which used the Animus River for their crops and livestock, were furious over the inaction the government took after the spill. President of the Navajo Nation Russell Begaye described Democratic reactions to the spill as lackluster, noting that he felt “they’ve just walked away,” despite the group being solid supporters of the party. Now, they’re filing a lawsuit, promising to hold the EPA’s “feet to the fire” (via CBS Denver):

Leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as their attorneys sued Tuesday, claiming negligence in the cleanup of a massive mine waste spill that tainted rivers in three Western states.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stood on the bank of the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico and explained his people’s link to the water and the economic, cultural and psychological damage inflicted in the wake of the August 2015 spill in southwestern Colorado.

“EPA, we’re holding your feet to the fire,” Begaye said, promising that generations of Navajos are willing to fight. “We will not let you get away with this because you have caused great damage to our people, our river, our lifeblood.”

A federal contractor triggered the spill during preliminary cleanup work at a mine near Silverton, Colorado. Three million gallons of wastewater carrying arsenic, lead and other heavy metals contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

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Good for them.

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