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.

Read page 1

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:


Starbucks, Destroyer of the Seas

Startling Footage of California Reservoirs Shows Devastating Impact of Epic Drought

Toxic Floods From Coal Mines and Power Plants Hit Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay World Heritage Site

Show Comments ()
Solar shade canopies. University of Hawaii

This College Could Become the First 100% Renewable Campus in U.S.

As a growing number of U.S. cities make pledges towards 100 percent renewables, it's easy to forget that the entire state of Hawaii set this important benchmark three years ago when it mandated that all of its electricity must come from renewable sources no later than 2045.

To help the Aloha State meet this ambitious commitment, in 2015, the University of Hawaii (UH) and the Hawaiian Legislature set a collective goal for the university system to be "net-zero" by Jan. 1, 2035, which means the total amount of energy consumed is equal to the amount of renewable energy created.

Keep reading... Show less

Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Wash Out, May Be Toxic

By Sukalyan Sengupta and Tabish Nawaz

Humans have known since ancient times that silver kills or stops the growth of many microorganisms. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have used silver preparations for treating ulcers and healing wounds. Until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, colloidal silver (tiny particles suspended in a liquid) was a mainstay for treating burns, infected wounds and ulcers. Silver is still used today in wound dressings, in creams and as a coating on medical devices.

Keep reading... Show less
4.4 million premature air pollution deaths could be avoided in Kolkata if emissions are reduced swiftly this century. M M / CC BY-SA 2.0

Study Finds Timely Emissions Reductions Could Prevent 153 Million Air Pollution Deaths This Century

One of the roadblocks to swift action on climate change is the human brain's tendency to focus on threats and stimuli that are an obvious and noticeable part of their everyday lives, rather than an abstract and future problem, as Amit Dhir explained in The Decision Lab.

Now, a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the air pollution that is already a major urban killer, thereby saving millions of lives within the next 40 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Lands threatened by BLM's March 2018 sale include Hatch Point. Neal Clark / SUWA

Trump Administration Sells Oil and Gas Leases Near Utah National Monuments

The Interior Department on Tuesday is auctioning off 32 parcels of public lands in southeastern Utah for oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) lease sale includes more than 51,000 acres of land near Bears Ears—the national monument significantly scaled back by the Trump administration last year—as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments.

Keep reading... Show less
Katharine Hayhoe talks climate communication hacks at the Natural Products Expo West Convention. Climate Collaborative

Katharine Hayhoe Reveals Surprising Ways to Talk About Climate Change

By Katie O'Reilly

Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Tide NA / Twitter

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather

By Andy Rowell

Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.

Keep reading... Show less

The Grapes of Trash

By Marlene Cimons

German monk and theologian Martin Luther probably said it best: "Beer is made by men, wine by God." It's true—the world loves its wine. Americans, in fact, downed close to a billion gallons of it in 2016. But winemakers create a lot of waste when they produce all that vino, most of it in seeds, stalks and skins.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Mike Pompeo Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than Rex Tillerson

By Kelle Louaillier

As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was one of the most blatant revolving-door cases in the Trump administration and a clear sign that Trump's government was of, by and for the fossil fuel industry. But make no mistake: Mike Pompeo could be far worse.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!