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Contaminant Plume
by Jeremiah Peterie
Physical Geology
Fall 2015

Massive Waste Plume


Waste Plume is a very common occurrence where excess waste contaminates the water supply. While many may be led to believe that waste has a very minor effect on our planet it can actually be quite devastating to the environment. The Gold King Mine is a very recent example of a massive contamination caused by a collection of mine waste.

Around the world the excess of waste has become evident to all. Recently the state of Utah has suffered from waste produced by the Gold King Mine which contaminated the San Juan River. While no one died, residents now needed to have their water tested and livestock owners couldn’t have their animals drinking from the river.

08/06/15-Durango - Mine waste from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton fills the Animas River at Bakers Bridge on Thursday morning. Photo: Jerry McBride/Durango Herald


The Gold King Mine is located near Silverton, Colorado, leaving all those down river in the path of three million gallons of mine waste. The waste consisted of heavy metals and toxic elements like arsenic, all of which are harmful if ingested in high quantities.


Many were concerned that this would have a negative effect on the ecosystem. The trout in the river mostly survived the ordeal with little drop in their populace. However, as Sarah Tse a writer for The Science Explorer states the issue was within the trout that had become contaminated with heavy metals and toxins.  This caused all kinds of problems for the predators who eat the fish, including humans. This could lead to a huge hit in animal populations along the river.

While the animals are in danger the problems also stretches to the crops that’s water supply comes from the river. Plants, like fish, can absorb the toxins and heavy metals making the heavily contaminated water unusable. The owners now had to bring water in from other places causing them cost in purchase and delivery of the water.

The massive amounts of waste could be devastating but how did it happen? According to Dana Ford and Ed Payne from CNN, the waste had been built up and was accidently released by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crew that was there to clean out the waste. Apparently pressure had built up causing the waste leak out into the river.

The common misconception would be that the waste was in the river and as such should be restricted to that area. Many nearby resident noticed contaminants in their wells caused by the heavy metals and toxins polluting the water table.

The contamination of ground water caused by the Gold King Mine is probably more detrimental than the contamination of the river. According to Water Encyclopedia, “About half the population in the United States relies on groundwater.” So imagine for those living along the Animus not being able to use water from the well but having to but water, just to be safe.


        The heavy metals and other contaminants eventually settled to the bottom of the river and it was speculated that the next spring melt would dilute the water. Still the damage was done as all recreation activities attached to the river were canceled causing a loss of income for businesses along the river.

        Such a disaster was caused by a build of waste that was becoming problematic and needed to be dealt with. An accident, among the disposal process, lead to contaminants leaking into a major water source and causing untold damage.

        There are many other contaminants that can enter the water systems such as lead, nitrite, and copper which are induced into water supplies through industrial waste.


        In the 1980’s Dupont had dumped C8, a chemical used by the company, into two local aquifers, underground water supplies. According to Christina Sarich , a writer for Natural Society, stated that “the chemical water was causing birth defects.”

This was a tragic story, but unlike the Gold King Mine, it was intentionally dumped into the water supply.  The contaminated water was consumed by many unsuspecting consumers of the local water table in West Virginia.

While it is true that a small amount of waste may have little to no effect on the local environment, it could potentially build up into something potentially deadly. No matter where you live, if you throw out waste rain and other natural elements will break it down and carry the chemical and other residue down into the very water to use every day.

Waste Plume is a very scary thing; it is unseen and in some cases can be tasteless. The best way to avoid contaminating the water supply is to keep waste from collecting in areas where it could leach into the local water table. One should be cautious of living in an area with a chemical plan, or mines for one can never know if the water around them is safe.


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