Heavy metals detected in Blue River mine spill | SummitDaily.com

Heavy metals detected in Blue River mine spill

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

BRECKENRIDGE Early reviews of water samples from the Blue River taken during a surge of run-off from an abandoned mine site show highly elevated levels of toxic heavy metals.The results raise concerns about the potential impacts to trout and other aquatic life from the April 17 run-off event that turned the river bright orange for a day. The tests show that, along with the iron that turned the water orange, other metals were also carried down into the normally clean waters of the Blue River.There was some pretty bad stuff that went through, said Breckenridge Sanitation District director Andy Carlberg, who took water samples for three days at various locations to monitor the slug of pollution. Carlberg deferred to state experts for a full evaluation of the test results. But he said at least some of the pollution appears to have passed the confluence with French Gulch, although in lower concentrations. The Blue River flows underground into old dredgerock piles in that reach. Officials previously speculated that most of the pollution would be filtered out in that stretch.Its definitely spewing something out. The big issue was iron, said Summit County water quality expert Lane Wyatt. It was two-and-a-half times as much as youd like to see, he said. Iron settles out of the water and can kill the small bugs and larvae living in the riverbed, Wyatt explained. Those animals form the base of the aquatic food chain. The results also showed elevated levels of zinc, another metal that can be toxic to trout at certain concentrations.Wyatt said theres no significant human health risk associated with the event. We dont really drink out of the river. The rest of it is really an aquatic life issue, he said.Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists counted about 30 dead fish in the days following the toxic release from the Iron Springs mill site into Illinois Gulch, along Boreas Pass Road. Some of those fish will be lab-tested to determine the cause of death. There were reports of additional dead fish, said the divisions Tom Kroening, who walked the affected stretch of river several times to assess the impacts to the fishery.The early numbers were quite high, particularly zinc, which is toxic to trout, said Steve Gunderson, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. He characterized the zinc levels as screaming high, and said levels of other metals showed up in concentrations lethal to fish, especially near the mine site. Along with zinc and iron, Gunderson said arsenic, lead and aluminum also showed up in high concentrations. A lot of the heavy metals were pretty high, Gunderson said. Weve been in contact with representatives of a company we believe owns the property, he continued. Once we get confirmed ownership, we are going to be requiring mitigation. Theyll have to explain what happened and have a plan to fix it. Most of the speculation centers around some sort of collapse inside the mine that led to the sudden discharge, he said. The metals concentrations have diminished with time and are diluted downstream, so the problem is limited to a relatively small geographic area, he added.A significant amount of baseline water quality data from regular Blue River testing is available, so after careful evaluation of samples taken during the pollution surge, experts should be able to get a good idea of how serious the event was.An emergency response team from the EPA is also looking into the matter. Team leader Hays Griswold said he plans to visit the area next week to discuss the results of the test and to look at the physical situation.Addits tend to fill up and let go, Griswold said, explaining that sudden effluents from abandoned mines are not all that uncommon. Id want to see if it has the potential to happen again, he said, explaining that the EPAs focus could be on preventing a recurrence of the potentially toxic spill.Bob Berwyn can be contacted at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

To check out video from the zinc’s effects, click on this URL: https://www.summitdaily.com/article/20060417/NEWS/60417004&SearchID=73242952511231

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