Five months before the Animas River toxic spill disaster, leaders from the tiny Colorado mining town of Silverton pleaded with EPA officials to not perform tests that would declare the area a Superfund site.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency was intent on ferreting out “widespread soil contamination” from historic mines, even though the town was tested five years ago and no problems were found.

“The fact is that our mission is to protect human health and the environment and not to stick our heads in the sand and not look,” declared Steve Wharton, head of a Superfund response team. His comments were contained in a March 27 article that appeared in the local Silverton Standard newspaper.

On Aug. 5, an EPA crew breached a debris dam at the old Gold King Mine, and 3 million gallons of water containing lead and arsenic flowed into the Animas River. The poisons turned the water bright orange and have since flowed into Utah and New Mexico, creating an epic disaster affecting farmers, towns and the Navajo Nation, which rely on the water.

The crews had started to collect soil samples sometime after June 23.

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