Before Colorado mine disaster, EPA project caused spill in Georgia

Still reeling from a disaster it created at a Colorado gold mine, the EPA has so far avoided criticism for a similar toxic waste spill in Georgia.

In Greensboro, EPA-funded contractors grading a toxic 19th-century cotton mill site struck a water main, sending the deadly sediment into a nearby creek. Though that accident took place five months ago, the hazard continues as heavy storms -- one hit the area Tuesday -- wash more soil into the creek.

The sediment flows carry dangerous mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium downstream to the tourist destination of Lake Oconee, which then feeds into Oconee River -- home to many federally and state protected species.

Grading at the Mary Leila Cotton Mill in Greensboro, Ga., was halted when a water main burst. (Courtesy of former EPA scientist David Lewis.)

Grading at the Mary Leila Cotton Mill in Greensboro, Ga., was halted when a water main burst. (Courtesy of former EPA scientist David Lewis.)

Lead in the soil is 20,000 times higher than federal levels established for drinking water, said microbiologist Dave Lewis, who was a top-level scientist during 31 years at the Environmental Protection Agency.

He became a whistleblower critical of EPA practices and now works for Focus for Health, a nonprofit that researches disease triggers.

"Clearly, the site is a major hazardous chemical waste dump, which contains many of the most dangerous chemical pollutants regulated by the EPA," Lewis wrote in a 2014 affidavit for a court case filed by local residents that failed to prevent the EPA project: creating a low-income housing development.

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