EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Colorado's Animas River

By Laurel Morales
August 07, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency unintentionally released about a million gallons of yellow sludge from a Colorado mine into the Animas River on Thursday. Officials downstream blasted the agency for not initially taking the spill more seriously.

New Mexico’s environment secretary said the EPA initially downplayed the danger the contamination posed to public safety and wildlife.

"Our reaction the first day was not appropriate," said Shaun McGrath, EPA spokesman. "We’ve very much changed our response"

McGrath spoke to community members at a meeting in Durango on Friday.

"Unfortunately our early comments may have sounded cavalier about the public health concern and concern about wildlife," McGrath said. "I want to assure the EPA is absolutely concerned about protecting public health and the environment."

The EPA and Colorado Reclamation, Mining and Safety team were investigating contamination at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, when they triggered the dam breach. No workers were injured.

"I’m very sorry for what happened," said David Ostrander, EPA’s director of emergency preparedness. "This is a huge tragedy. We typically respond to emergencies. We don’t cause them."

The agency has built a settling pond for the ongoing leakage and is testing river samples to analyze the extent of damage. They know several metals, including lead and arsenic, were released.

The Animas flows into the San Juan River, then the Colorado River. Forty million people, including several tribes, depend on the Colorado for drinking water. 

The EPA anticipates ongoing ramifications and river closures in the future.

More Gold King Mine Coverage