UPDATE: Federal environmental officials confirmed Friday night the presence of heavy metals including lead, arsenic, cadmium, copper, and aluminum. While they did not disclose as yet just how much was present in the Dorito-hued sludge, EPA Regional Director Shaun McGrath did say that local authorities made the right decision in closing the river to human access. As of last night, the hideous hue had reached the New Mexico border.
For their part, the San Juan Corporation, who own the decommissioned Gold King Mine that the spill originated from, issued a statement that said they had never mined on the property, and had purchased it as-is.
“San Juan Corp., owner of the Gold King Mine, has never mined the property or contributed to existing environmental conditions. Using the best information available, it is believed that much of the contaminated water at the mine originated from another mining source and migrated to the Gold King Mine. SJC has worked cooperatively with the EPA to create a viable long term solution to the problem that has existed since 2003 and will continue to work with the EPA to secure land for additional water treatment retention ponds to address the containment and treatment of mine water.”
Further testing is till being conducted, both in Colorado and New Mexico.
In a wildly ironic—and tragic—case of “with friends like these,” members of the Environmental Protection Agency looking into pollutants at an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado accidently unleashed around a million gallons of polluted water with their heavy machinery on Thursday. Rushing into the pristine Animas River, the water immediately turned a brilliant yellow-orange from the heavy metals contained in the waste, which include zinc, iron, copper, and more.
More than 70 miles of river have been closed, stretching all the way to New Mexico, and the city of Durango has issued warnings to curtail water use and irrigation.
The toxic wastewater was stored behind debris and was described as “unexpected” by an EPA official. Experts are testing samples of the Animas River to see just how contaminated it now is, with results expected sometime today.
Not surprisingly, the arrival of Technicolor toxic water has made its way onto the social media feeds of many distressed Coloradans, while Durango residents prepared for the worst, with some of them reportedly in tears at the news.
“It’s incredible that we don’t know more,” State Senator Ellen Roberts told the Denver Post. “We have the equivalent of an EPA-caused Love Canal here. And we still didn’t know what was coming. ... It is unacceptable. We are all held up—because we don’t know the water test results.”
“The EPA caused it,” Roberts went on. “And the EPA has taken the ‘lead role.’ The problem is the EPA has left us totally disarmed. The biggest problem now is public health and safety.”
The Animas River serves as a major whitewater rafting attraction, is rated as a gold medal fishery in parts, where it attracts thousands of anglers year round, and provides a major habitat for bald eagles.