Analysis

Colorado officials allow extreme mining pollution in drinking water

Residents of areas in and around Denver are increasingly threatened by runoff from an active mine in the Colorado Rockies. After exceeding the state health limit for molybdenum pollution of a creek for the past four years,  the Climax Molybdenum mine is asking the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to raise that limit 43 times higher so it can pollute legally.

Denver Water, the area water utility, says the cost of upgrading a water treatment facility to filter out this pollution could cost $600 million,  an expense which would be shouldered by its ratepayers, not by Freeport-McMoRan, the $46 billion company that owns the Climax mine.

In other words, if Freeport-McMoRan gets its wish, the CDPHE would relieve a multi-billion dollar corporation of having to pay to clean up its wastewater, pushing that cost instead onto the millions of unfortunate people living downstream of the Climax mining operation.

The Climax mine is located northeast of Leadville, Colorado. It sits adjacent to Tenmile Creek, which flows into the main reservoir supplying water to many mountain towns, rural areas, and Denver County via the South Platte River watershed. The open pit mine is a major supplier of molybdenum, a mineral used in hardening steel and processing petroleum products, In humans, chronic molybdenum ingestion can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weight and kidney, liver, and lung damage.

Scientists at the CDPHE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency maintain that exposure to molybdenum, even at current levels, can harm humans and kill aquatic life. A higher level of unregulated contamination, as Climax is requesting, would considerably escalate these dangers. Despite the known threats to human health, and ignoring pleas by their own scientists, CDPHE officials have waived pollution restrictions on the Climax mine through 2020, in order to give industry-funded researchers more time to “study” the effects of water contamination. In fact, the CDPHE’s current molybdenum limit is based on rat studies, conducted decades ago, which Freeport-McMoRan funded!

Collaboration between state regulators and polluting corporations in the United States is not unusual, and it endangers the health of millions of people across the country. Since state economies are so dependent on the whims of capital, multi-billion dollar corporations like Freeport-McMoRan are often handled with a light touch by state regulators. As we have seen in places like Flint, Michigan, and Standing Rock, protecting people’s right to clean water is simply not a high priority under capitalism, and marginalized communities bear a disproportionate burden of contaminated and undrinkable water.

It is clear: for the people and the planet to live, capitalism must go!

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