Oops…EPA Causes 3 Million-Gallon Wastewater Release into River

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
People kayaking on the contaminated Animas River (photo:Jerry McBride, Durango Herald via AP)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned itself into the environmental destruction agency last week when it caused millions of gallons of mine waste to pour into a river that provides drinking water for thousands of people.


An EPA-supervised crew working inside the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado accidentally breached a wall holding back wastewater containing heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead.


The breach resulted in three million gallons of yellow/orange-colored waste spilling into the Animas River, which supplies drinking water to residents of Durango, Colorado (population 17,000). The river also flows through or near communities in New Mexico (Farmington, Aztec and Kirtland) and Utah’s Bluff, which is popular with tourists.


The EPA initially said one million gallons of contaminated water had flowed into the river before revising its estimates. The rate of the leak out of the mine was calculated at 1,200 gallons per minute.


As far as the health risks posed by the accident, EPA toxicologist Deborah McKean told the media that it depended on the obvious, saying the “risk associated with exposure to a chemical is a matter of how much of the chemical you are exposed to.” Testing of water collected at sample stations along the Animas showed increased levels of arsenic, lead, aluminum, copper and other potentially toxic heavy metals, officials reported. “Those numbers are high and they are scary because they seem so high,” added McKean.


As of Sunday, discolored water had traveled 100 miles from where it originated, reaching municipalities in New Mexico. Two Colorado counties, La Plata and Durango, have declared states of emergency.


Durango city officials noted that an intake valve had been turned off prior to the spill, prompting Durango Mayor Dean Brookie to offer reassurance to the town’s citizens. “Your water never has been and never will be contaminated,” he said. “Your water is safe to drink.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Animas River Mine Spill: La Plata And Durango Declare State of Emergency (by Tom McGhee, Denver Post)

Regional EPA Director Calls Wastewater Spill In Animas River 'Tragic' (by Bruce Finley, Denver Post)

EPA Admits It Triggered Million-Gallon Mine Waste Release Into Animas River (Colorado Public Radio and Associated Press)

EPA: No Word Yet On Health Risk From Colorado Mine Spill (by Dan Elliott and Colleen Slavin, Associated Press)


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