EPA Fail: 3 Million Gallons Of Mine Waste Let Loose In Colorado's Water

Photo: Associated Press.
A Colorado river is running orange after an EPA accident led to the water being contaminated by waste from an abandoned mine. According to the EPA, via CNN's reportage, the spill was caused when a team entered the Gold King Mine near Durango and accidentally caused it to overflow into the Animas River.

The surrounding area has declared a state of emergency, and officials have urged everyone to stay away from the tainted water. When the spillage began five days ago, it was originally estimated that one million gallons of waste water were flushed into the Animas; today's estimate puts that number at three times higher, while 550 more gallons continue to rush into the river with each passing minute.

The neon water is believed to contain heavy metals, including iron, zinc, and copper; it has made its way all the way to New Mexico as of Monday. The EPA — which has earned a new nickname, the Environmental Pollution Agency, among locals — will continue to monitor water samples downstream until it is able to affirm that contamination levels do not pose a threat to aquatic life. EPA officials have said that testing on drinking water will be conducted by a separate state-level department.

Locals are understandably distraught over the disaster: The pollution in the Animas River is a deeply personal issue to many who live nearby. On Sunday, Colorado State Senator Ellen Roberts told The New York Times that she had scattered her father's ashes in the river's waters.

“It is not just a scenic destination,” she said, crying. “It is where people literally raise their children. It is where the farmers and ranchers feed their livestock, which in turn feeds the people. We’re isolated from Denver through the mountains. And we are pretty resourceful people. But if you take away our water supply, we’re left with virtually no way to move forward.”

In the days to come, the extent of the damage to the river and wildlife will become clearer. But even if this disaster passes quickly, Colorado isn't safe from future occurrences of this magnitude. According to the Times, there are an estimated 200 mines near the Animas watershed, all of which are closed, and another 23,000 abandoned mines in the state overall. The EPA may rightly be taking the heat for this one, but this leakage was an accident waiting to happen — and the long history of other metal-pollution leaks into Colorado's water is evidence to that effect.

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