Emersen Sud crouches along a bank of the Animas River, in Durango, Colorado, August 14, 2015. A recent accident that leaked a toxic yellow plume of sludge from the Gold King mine into the Animas River heightened a debate over the future of this region’s old mines. (Photo: Mark Holm/The New York Times)
William Rivers Pitt | Truthout | August 19, 2015
When Arizona Sen. John McCain met with the Navajo Nation’s tribal government on Saturday at their capital in Window Rock, Arizona, after arriving in a big black SUV, he believed he would be spending the day observing the commemoration of Code Talkers Day. This was not the case. A group of Navajo activists, incensed at the damage done to the Animas River by a toxic chemical spill from an abandoned mine, confronted the senator. Rather than address their concerns, McCain scuttled out a side door, dove into his SUV and sped down the road with the activists sprinting after him shouting, “Get off our land!”
Activists from the Navajo Nation are furious over the Animas River spill, and for good damn reason. The EPA, while attempting to evaluate the toxicity of the long-abandoned Gold King mine, inadvertently released three million gallons of hideously polluted water into the river, turning it a sickly orange color. The lead level of the released water was at least 12,000 times higher than normal, and also contained extremely high levels of beryllium, mercury, cadmium, iron, copper, zinc and arsenic. The people of the Navajo Nation rely on the river for drinking water, farming, livestock and medicine. It is a lifeline, and now it is dangerous to the touch.
The impact of the spill is not just being felt by the people of the Navajo Nation. That three million gallon orange slick of poison wended its way down the Animas River for some 300 miles until it arrived at and entered Lake Powell, a large reservoir that feeds into the Colorado River, and is a source of drinking water for many cities in the Southwest, including Las Vegas. The EPA and other government agencies are desperately deploying a “Be calm, all is well” argument, but a “team” has been formed to monitor the ongoing damage. Cold comfort indeed.