VIDEO: Toxic Spill in the Animas River

Late Thursday afternoon, August 6, officials in Durango, Colorado, warned residents to stay well clear of the Animas River, as a the river suddenly and surprisingly turned a sickly yellow-orange.

Screen grab from a DurangoTV video of the toxic mine spill event in Durango this past weekend.  See the full video using the link below.

Screen grab from a DurangoTV video of the toxic mine spill event in Silverton this past weekend. See the full video using the link below.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that they had accidentally poisoned the Animas River with toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine northwest of Silverton, Colorado, as a result of some type of mishap. (The exact cause of the mishap has not yet been reported, it would appear, as I post this article.)

The accidental spill was estimated at 1 million gallons on Friday. By Sunday, the estimate had been revised upwards, to 3 million gallons, as the yellow sludge slowly made its way down the river and into New Mexico.

On Sunday, the city of Durango and La Plata County declared a state of emergency. The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management also issued a state of emergency declaration in response to the spill.

The news website DurangoTV released this video footage on YouTube on Saturday, which included news about an EPA apology for the accident.

EPA officials said in a teleconference Sunday afternoon that water quality experts have been deployed to Shiprock, NM, and are encouraging people there to take advantage of water quality sampling. EPA officials said they are also working to provide necessary materials to people in Farmington and Aztec for private well sampling.

A news video published on 9NEWS states:

Sunday marked five days since an EPA team mistakenly released the waste water from the abandoned Gold King Mine. The orange plume was still moving at about 500 feet per minute, thinning as it reached areas near Farmington, New Mexico.

“These problems happen all the time,” said Mark Williams, a geography professor at the University of Colorado. “Almost every abandoned mine has the potential for that situation.”

According to the 9NEWS website, the mine is still leaking. Reporter Noel Brennan states (in the 9NEWS video) that over 55,000 abandoned mines in the West have the potential to spill toxic wastewater into the environment.

On Saturday, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet issued the following statement:

“Our top priority is to support efforts to protect the health and safety of the citizens there, focus on cleanup and recovery efforts, and make certain that state and federal agencies are taking all necessary steps to mitigate future problems. We have been working closely with local officials, the state, and emergency management officials.

“We have also been in close contact with EPA officials and have been pushing them to make sure everything possible is being done as quickly as possible. The community is rightfully very frustrated with the EPA’s slow communication and response and we are relaying these concerns at the highest level possible.

“The EPA must recognize the severity of this incident and respond with all the resources available. An effective command structure on the ground in Durango will be critical to the response, and must include close coordination with other assisting state and federal agencies. We urge the EPA to provide the community with information about what water quality tests reveal as quickly as possible.

“Those affected deserve a firm commitment from the EPA to cover community costs related to this tragedy, including reimbursement for agricultural producers who must haul water from Hermosa Creek to replace the unusable water in the Animas River.”

According to preliminary testing data the EPA released Sunday, arsenic levels in the Durango area of the Animas River were, at their peak, 300 times the normal level, and lead was 3,500 times the normal level. Officials said those levels have dropped significantly since the plume moved through the area.

The Daily Post suggests some caution before eating trout from the Animas River.

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.