In 2015, the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado experienced a catastrophic failure. On August 5th of that year, a team of contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was attempting to secure the mine when a breach occurred, releasing a large volume of water that was contaminated with heavy metals.
The released water flowed into the Animas River, a tributary of the San Juan River, and traveled downstream, eventually reaching the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The contamination of the river had significant impacts on the environment and local communities. The contaminated water turned the river orange, killing fish and other aquatic life and posing a risk to human health.
The EPA initially estimated that the mine release released three million gallons of contaminated water into the river. However, subsequent analysis indicated that the volume of released water was significantly larger, potentially as much as 16 million gallons.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the EPA faced criticism for its handling of the incident. The agency was accused of not properly disclosing the extent of the contamination and of not taking sufficient measures to prevent the release. The EPA later reached a settlement with the state of Colorado and other affected parties, agreeing to pay $4 million in compensation. The Gold King Mine release remains a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of environmental accidents and the importance of proper risk management.