Almost 3 million gallons of toxic waste is making its way to Lake Powell and residents affected are questioning the consequences of illegal dumping in Utah waterways.
illegal accidental dumping
Photo by: Sharon Mollerus
Last Wednesday, the EPA had a group working cleanup detail on a Colorado mine. During the cleanup, the group accidentally made a bigger mess when they broke a dam inside the mine that was holding back a large amount of toxic waste. Once released, the waste dumped into nearby Cement Creek and has been working its way down the San Juan River toward Lake Powell.
Complications of the toxic waste
The mustard yellow toxic waste released into the waterways contains harmful chemicals and metals such as aluminum, arsenic, lead, and copper. These pollutants not only make the water undrinkable for human consumption, skin exposed to it can become extremely irritated as well. Its effects on vegetation and wildlife is unknown at the time, however toxic is toxic; damage is imminent. These toxins are predicted to settle into riverbeds, where they will remain for an indefinite period of time. How long it will be until the water is “safe” to swim or drink has not been determined.
Polluting our water
Utah code 19-5-107 states “except as provided in this chapter or rules made under it, it is unlawful for any person to discharge a pollutant into waters of the state or to cause pollution which constitutes a menace to public health and welfare, or is harmful to wildlife, fish or aquatic life, or impairs domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational, or other beneficial uses of water, or to place or cause to be placed any wastes in a location where there is probable cause to believe it will cause pollution.” The Navajo Nation, which uses the San Juan River for a culinary resource near Mexican Hat, Utah is already having drinking water shipped in for residents. They are predicting the cleanup of the toxic murk will be severely difficult and time consuming. How much this will cost or the extent of the damage isn’t even fathomable at this time.
Charges against EPA unlikely
Consequences for illegal dumping in Utah waterways can range from a class A misdemeanor to a 2nd degree felony for those that are actually held accountable. This depends on a variety of issues such as how toxic the discarded waste is and whether or not the person or business has been convicted of illegal dumping before. Since the EPA is a federal company, they are unlikely to face criminal charges for the illegal dumping in Utah waterways; however the Navajo Nation is planning on suing for costs and damages.
Not the same drain
While most Utah residents wouldn’t intentionally dump anything foreign into a river or lake, many don’t think twice about the difference between washing dishes in the sink and washing their car in the driveway. What goes down the drain in the home goes to a completely different place from than runoff outside the home. Regarding these different water systems, the Salt Lake County Health Departments states:
“The sanitary sewer is the system that takes wastewater from your sinks, toilets, showers, dishwashers and washing machines to the water treatment plant. There the pollutants in the water are either removed or reduced to acceptable levels and then the treated water is discharged into the river.
The storm sewer system is used to drain rainwater and snowmelt off the streets, parking lots, driveways, etc. This water goes directly into the nearest stream, river, pond, lake or canal without any treatment whatsoever, so dumping soapy water into the gutter is no different than dumping it into the nearest creek.”
Protect yourself from charges
Those persons caught dumping chemicals into rivers, streams, or lakes are guilty of illegal dumping in Utah waterways. Also guilty are those who wash cars, clean driveways, pressure wash exterior of homes and rinse oil or other chemical containers and let waste water go into the gutters or storm drains. For more information on illegal dumping in Utah waterways or for legal counsel regarding charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.