BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKINew Mexico sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court Monday, seeking $136 million in damages from last summer's Gold King Mine spill that sent 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River and into New Mexico. The lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Environment Department and Atty. Gen. Hector Balderas against the EPA, its contractor and the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mine. The Aug. 5, 2015 spill released 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas and the San Juan River, the lawsuit said. In a news release announcing the suit, NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn said the EPA has ignored data his department has provided showing continuing high levels of metals, turbity and suspended solids in the state's rivers. “Over the last seven months we have sought practical negotiations with EPA on topics ranging from their bizarre sediment standard, to comprehensive long-term monitoring,” Flynn said. “Our requests have been simple: 'Please help us keep New Mexicans safe from the effects of the spill which you caused.' “Rather than joining our monitoring efforts, EPA instead cherry picks the data they choose to monitor and present; and then dodges accountability at every turn.” Balders said he was “disappointed by the continued unwillingness to respond to the New Mexico Environment Department's numerous attempts to resolve this matter diplomatically and outside of court.” The lawsuit said the heavy metals—lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and zinc—released by the spill still pose a health risk to New Mexicans. “Many reaches of the Animas—on both sides of the Colorado-New Mexico state line—are now 'sinks,' which have temporarily captured heavy metals from the release,” the suit said. “Rainfall, snowmelt, and other high flow events will re-suspend these pollutants and carry them further downstream into and through New Mexico. “These sources of ongoing and future discharges pose imminent and long-term health risks to the New Mexican people—particularly residents, farmers, ranchers, and recreational users of the Animas and San Juan Rivers. They also threaten fish, invertebrates, plants, and the environment in New Mexico.” The spill was caused when an EPA contractor breached a retaining pond wall at the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado.
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