Four days after the Gold King Mine spill, more than 600 area residents attended a community meeting full of anger and pointed fingers.
On Thursday night, the turnout was far diminished, with about 150 people showing up at Miller Middle School to get the latest updates, responding with applause to local officials talking about their efforts to make sure our water supply is safe.
After explaining the testing at every stage the city of Durango is doing on water pulled from the Animas River, Mayor Dean Brookie said, “I can assure you that the water coming out of your tap has been more highly tested than any bottle of water on the shelves of City Market.”
One questioner asked why the city didn’t wait until the spring runoff before turning on its Animas River intake.
“Because testing from three different agencies said it was safe to turn it on now,” Brookie said, “and major summer users such as Durango Parks and (Recreation), School District 9-R, (Fort Lewis College) and Hillcrest Golf (Club) were pressing for water to take care of their grounds.”
“There’s been so much attention; it’s been so dramatic, and all that attention may be out of proportion with what we’re dealing with here,” one woman said. “People are acting as though this were at the level of the Love Canal or Gulf (Coast) oil spill, and it’s not.”
Others spoke of the need for healing between San Juan and La Plata counties, were angered that testing results are difficult to understand for lay people, and some wondered if all the Environmental Protection Agency is going to do is test and wait for high-water events to wash the sediment down river.
“No, we’re working up at the mine site so the drainage doesn’t continue,” said David Ostrander, program director for the EPA’s Preparedness, Assessment and Emergency Response.
In addition to giving residents updates from the EPA, La Plata County, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, San Juan Basin Health Department and other agencies, the meeting allowed residents to get information at breakout tables about specific issues.
The most highly swarmed table was addressing environmental monitoring and water safety, which included representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, EPA and the state health department. It was mentioned in the auditorium that two beavers had been found dead.
“They’ve been sent to Grand Junction to be tested,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said, adding there was no obvious reason for their deaths. “After a dead fish was found near Santa Rita Park last Thursday, we floated from 32nd Street to the High Bridge and found six more. They’ve also been sent for testing. I don’t want to underplay what’s happened, but fish die, just like people die.”
EPA toxicologist Kristen Keteles was one of the most popular scientists at the meeting.
“I keep telling people ... that the dose makes the poison,” she said. “Even water can be toxic if you drink enough. And people are getting more arsenic if they drink apple juice or more mercury if they eat tuna than they’ll get from the Animas River. We can’t eliminate chemicals entirely.”