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Health, Science & Environment

San Juan River Samples Have Elevated Metals

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Ron Cogswell
/
Flickr Creative Commons
The West is mining country and the San Juan River is often murky with sediments (as shown here in 2013) that can contain mining waste, so Utah environmental officials continue testing to see if the Gold King wastewater has affected the river downstream.

Utah officials have been on the lookout out for impacts from last week’s Gold King Mine wastewater spill. On Wednesday, they received more information from downstream, although the answers aren’t conclusive. 

Weekend water samples from the San Juan River show levels of lead and four other metals are elevated – but not worrisome.

“We don’t see a reason to restrict the usage recreationally of the San Juan River,” says Craig Dietrich, a toxicologist for the Utah Department of Health who examined the health risks. “And, furthermore, we’ve looked at it from an agricultural point of view – meaning watering livestock and crops – and again we don’t see any reason to restrict usage.”

Higher-than-usual levels of lead, arsenic, aluminum, manganese and iron could be related to the Colorado minewater spill. But Dietrich points out that definitive answers are obscured because runoff from the storms at the end of last week loaded the San Juan with sediment.

“Much of that could be coming from the area could be naturally occurring,” he says. “And the West is known – Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and it’s known there’s a high metal content, and that’s simply the geology of our region.”

Utah environment, health and safety agencies released a joint statement Wednesday saying they’ll keep monitoring.

Meanwhile, Governor Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency late Wednesday because of the spill. And Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz joined two other lawmakers in demanding a high-level investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in causing the spill, managing the aftermath and preventing similar disasters in the future. 

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