Home > Latest News > Latest News > Public Health >
Animas River mine spill: La Plata and Durango declare state of emergency
Three million gallons of water containing mining waste has poured into the Animas River since Wednesday, and it is still unclear what the environmental and health impact of the spill, caused by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be.
Water collected at sampling stations along Cement Creek and the upper Animas found higher-than-normal levels of arsenic and other heavy metals, Deborah McKean, an EPA toxicologist, said in a Sunday conference call with the media.
But the levels are dropping as the plume drifts farther down the river and is diluted. “Those concentrations increase for a few hours and then decrease again by the next sampling period,” she said. “Those numbers are high and they are scary because they seem so high. However, risk associated with exposure to a chemical is a matter of how much of the chemical you are exposed to.”
Kalyn Green, resident of Durango, stands on the edge of the Animas River, Aug. 6, 2015. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)
It remains unclear if the spill poses health risks to humans and aquatic life.
On Sunday, La Plata County and Durango both declared a state of emergency as a result of the spill, which originated at a mine near Silverton.
“This action has been taken due to the serious nature of the incident and to convey the grave concerns that local elected officials have to ensure that all appropriate levels of state and federal resources are brought to bear to assist our community not only in actively managing this tragic incident but also to recover from it,” La Plata County Manager Joe Kerby said in a release.
On Sunday, the EPA posted reports on its website including sample data taken from the river at different locations that detail how much metal is in the water. Tom Dea, vice president for TZA Water Engineers in Lakewood, reviewed those reports for The Denver Post.
Dea said because the latest report on the site shows data from Aug. 6, it would be inaccurate to report on those numbers now since the data will be “continually changing” as the pollution makes its way through the water.
(The Denver Post)
Wastewater from Gold King Mine started spilling after an EPA-supervised cleanup crew accidentally breached a debris dam inside the inactive mine last Wednesday. The EPA originally reported 1 million gallons spilled into the river. On Sunday, the agency revised that to 3 million gallons after the EPA used a stream gauge from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The mine continues to discharge about 500 gallons of water per minute into ponds, where it is being treated before it goes into Cement Creek, where it is carried into the river.
The city of Durango uses drinking water from the Animas. But an intake valve was turned off before contaminated water reached it, city officials said. “Your water never has been and never will be contaminated,” Durango Mayor Dean Brookie said at a Sunday public forum, referring to the city’s tap water. “Your water is safe to drink.”
Some residents along the river who rely on wells for drinking water have told the EPA that their water is discolored. EPA teams are checking water in those locations, Mc Kean said. The agency is providing drinking water to those who need it.
Some toxins will settle on the river bottom, said Shaun McGrath, EPA regional chief. Future storms will kick up sediment, so the river will require continued monitoring.
The discolored water from the spill stretched more than 100 miles Sunday from where it originated, reaching the New Mexico municipalities of Farmington, Aztec and Kirtland.
The leading edge of the plume was headed toward Utah and Montezuma Creek near the town of Bluff, a tourist destination.
Officials were preparing to shut down two wells that serve Montezuma Creek, said Rex Kontz, deputy general manager for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
At a Sunday public forum, citizens affected by the pollution peppered the EPA with questions, demanding answers to questions such as “what do I tell the employees of my river rafting business?” and “what are you doing now to address the long-term effects of this disaster?”
A representative from the Navajo Nation also took the stage to address the crowded room.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has said he intends to sue the EPA for the massive release of mine waste, according to nativenewsonline.net.
Published by The Denver Post, 08/09/2015