The Environmental Protection Agency is creating a new office in Lakewood that will focus on cleaning abandoned hard-rock mining sites west of the Mississippi River, including the Bonita Peak Mining District where the Gold King Mine disaster originated in 2015.
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will be located in the EPA’s regional office in the Denver Federal Center, the agency announced during a news conference at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.
EPA’s National Mining Team Leader Shahid Mahmud will be the acting director, and the team will have nine full-time staff positions.
The office, which will use existing agency funds, will primarily focus on remediation work at Superfund sites and other abandoned mining locations, which release millions of gallons of pollution into streams each year.
Remediation efforts will include cleaning up sites and the surrounding environment, and in some cases, rebuilding the mine for operations.
There are more than 63 Superfund Mining and Mineral Processing Sites west of the Mississippi River, including nine in Colorado. In Colorado alone, there are about 23,000 abandoned mines.
Many historic mining sites don’t have an owner or operator to facilitate cleanup operations themselves, placing them in the EPA’s hands.
In August 2015, an EPA crew accidentally breached the Gold King Mine above Silverton, releasing 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River, including heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, and other toxic elements, such as arsenic, beryllium, zinc, iron and copper into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.