Gold King Mine Spill

Relevance to SWEHSC: 

In August 2015, an estimated 3 million gallons of acid water and heavy metals spilled from the Gold King Mine into Colorado's Animas River, eventually flowing into the San Juan River, the primary source of irrigation for Navajo Nation farmers. The spill was accidentally caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while trying to prevent leakage of toxic materials.

Chief, a Navajo hydrologist and assistant professor in the UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, and Beamer, an associate professor of environmental health sciences, lead a cross-disciplinary team with plans to address tribal questions regarding the impact of the environmental disaster on their communities.

Cluster of Efforts: 


  • Karletta Chief, PhD
  • Paloma Beamer, PhD
  • Dean Billheimer, PhD
  • Jani Ingram, PhD

UA SRP’s rapid response efforts to the Gold King Mine spill helped many in communities touched by the event, and resulted in two awards to study exposure, risk and risk perceptions from the spill. The awards were an Agnese Nelms Haury Challenge Grant and an NIEHS R21 Grant. These projects are led by UA SRP investigator, Dr. Karletta Chief, and UA SRP collaborator, Dr. Paloma Beamer, but include many academic and community partners. This team has also established a quarterly newsletter to share the progress of their work.

Concurrent with these community engagement efforts, UA SRP also launched a large-scale sampling strategy; forming a multi-institute collaboration with NAU, Nex Mexico State University Extension, and a local tribal community college, Dine' College. Throughout the summer of 2016 as the spill's one-year anniversary approached, researchers and students from these learning institutions embarked on a number of field excursions to collect environmental samples to characterize soil and water impacts throughout the impacted region. These sample collection efforts also provided another level of community engagement, as well as valuable learning experiences in teamwork and cultural diversity for the student collaborators.