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1 Million Gallons of Mine Waste Turns River in Colorado Orange

1 Million Gallons of Mine Waste Turns River in Colorado Orange

The Animas River in southwest Colorado turned bright orange on Wednesday after a mining and safety team working on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled a million gallons of mine waste from the abandoned Gold King Mine in San Juan County.

The sediment plume in Durango, Colorado. The river is an important secondary source of water for the city.
Photo credit: La Plata County Emergency Management

According to the AP, the team was working with heavy equipment to secure an entrance to mine when they accidentally triggered the large gush that reportedly caused the Cement Creek's water levels to rise two to three feet.

"The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metals pollution flowing out of the mine," EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said in a statement.

San Juan County health officials said that the acidic mine water associated with the release contains high levels of sediment and metals. EPA teams are conducting sampling and visual observations and monitoring river conditions over the next several days.

David Ostrander, director of EPA's emergency response program in Denver, informed the AP there is no threat to drinking water from the spill, however downstream water agencies were warned to avoid Animas water until the plume passes. Ostrander noted that the acidic sludge could irritate the skin.

In a precautionary measure, nearby residents have been warned by local officials to avoid consuming the water as the deluge made its way to La Plata County, Colorado yesterday. In particular, the city of Durango—which uses the river as a secondary source of water during the summer—has been advised to stop pumping raw water from the river, the Durango Herald reported.

The deluge making its way down the Animas River.
Photo credit: La Plata County Emergency Management

Steve Salka, Durango's utilities director, told the publication that residents need to conserve as much water as possible over the next few days until the water is safe to use.

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The Animas River has also been temporarily closed to all watercraft and other flotation devices from the north county line (San Juan County, Colorado) to the south county line (at the Colorado/New Mexico State line).

“This decision was made in the interest of public health after consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, San Juan Basin Health Department and representatives of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,” advised Sheriff Sean Smith. “This Order shall remain in effect until it is determined that the river is safe. EPA test results of the Animas River are expected within 24-48 hours, and the Order will be re-evaluated at that time.”

As the spill heads down river to New Mexico, officials in the city of Farmington "have shut down water-supply intake pumps to avoid contamination and advised citizens to stay out of the river until the discoloration has passed," according to the AP.

San Juan County Emergency Manager Don Cooper said residents should not panic because the EPA had told the county the spill would not harm people, adding that the primary pollutants were iron and zinc, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

"It's not going to look pretty, but it's not a killer," Cooper told the paper.

The impact on wildlife is currently unknown, as there are no fish in the Cement Creek watershed because of longstanding problems with water quality, the EPA told The Durango Herald.

Still, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has placed fish inside cages in the Animas River to see if the pollution affects them. "We'll see if those fish survive," spokesman Joe Lewandowski told the publication. "We're also monitoring to make sure we don't get infiltration into the hatchery, because that could be a problem."

Check out drone footage of the contamination in the video below:

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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