Patagonia residents on alert after abandoned mines found leaking sludge

Patagonia residents on alert after abandoned mines found leaking sludge

PATAGONIA, AZ (TucsonNewsNow) - The town of Patagonia was on alert after The Arizona Department of Environmental quality issued a notice of violation to an Asarco trust that owned the Trench Camp mine near Patagonia.

The area is a popular tourist attraction, and an environmental watchdog group in the area was concerned about possible water contamination resulting from the sludge that was orange-brown in color.

Wendy Russell, coordinator of the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA) said the Trench Camp and Lead Queen mines overflowed late last month because of heavy rainfall caused by Hurricane Odile.

Gooch Goodwin, a member of PARA accidentally discovered the sludge while hiking in the area a couple weeks ago.  He was alarmed because the sludge was in the area creeks.

"It's dangerous and it's getting in our waterways.  This actually flows into Sonoita Creek which goes into Patagonia Lake," said Goodwin.

Initial tests showed the water had unsafe levels of pH, but more will be conducted.  Officials with the USGS said the sludge contained Iron, Aluminum, Sulfur, Silicon, and Manganese, although the exact levels were unknown at this time.

The Lead Queen Mine ended operations in the 1940s, while Trench Camp closed in the 1960s.

Russell said there are about 130 abandoned mines in the Patagonia mountains.

Russell and Goodwin both worried about the water in the mountains contaminating the town's drinking water supply.

David Teel, town manager in Patagonia tells Tucson News Now the town and staff are on alert.

"My water and sewer guys have done some preparations so if necessary, we can start doing some monitoring but at this point it's still far away," said Teel.

About 800 residents relied on the town well for drinking water, and about 300 residents had private wells.

"If it got badly polluted it would be a serious problem," said Teel.

He added that town staff tested the wells about once a month; the last test was done about a week ago and the results were good.

"We're just watching the situation now.  If it looks like we need to test more often then we're prepared to do that," said Teel.

Patricia Mellor, a Patagonia resident was concerned, and said she hoped town officials would be up-front with them if there was any water contamination.  She said she typically drank bottled water, and used a filter to soften the water flowing from her taps.

The violation notice means the owners of the Trench Camp mines will have to start taking corrective action or they could have to face consequences from the state.

We were unable to get in touch with anyone at Asarco trust for a comment on this story tonight.

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