The 126-mile-long Animas River in Colorado has been temporarily closed because of an accidental spillage of contaminated mine waste by the Environmental Protection Agency. The massive one million gallon waste spill has also — hopefully temporarily — turned the Animas River a sickly shade of bright orange.
In a statement by the San Juan Basin Health Department, officials said that while working to investigate another contamination at Gold King Mine in San Juan County, heavy machinery was being used to secure an entrance at the mine, which then accidentally triggered the toxic waste spill that poured into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
“Initial estimates are that the release contained approximately 1 million gallons of water that was held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal. The EPA recommends that recreational users of the Animas River avoid contact with or use of the river until the pulse of mine water passes.”
While testing of the spillage into the Animas River is ongoing, initial reports state that the toxic waste in the river contains “high levels of sediment and metals” such as iron, aluminum, cadmium, zinc, and copper. The EPA and the health department insist there is no threat to local drinking water, however, Colorado residents have been urged to cut back on water usage for the time being and to cease all use of the Animas River until the contaminated water dissipates from the river. The city of Durango — where parts of the Animas River were the backdrop for the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — has also stopped watering local parks for the time being, and they are no longer pumping water to a local college and golf course.
While the drinking water may still be safe, residents and officials are concerned for the toll the contaminated Animas River water may take on local fish and wildlife, since the river’s acidity has risen nearly 100-fold due to the spillage. Residents are also being warned not to allow their pets or livestock to come into contact with the Animas River until futher notice.
To test the impact of the toxic spill on fish, Colorado Parks and Wildlife have placed cages of fish into the Animas River, said spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
“We’ll see if those fish survive. We’re also monitoring to make sure we don’t get infiltration into the hatchery, because that could be a problem.”
Though officials are still unsure how long it will take before the Animas River is no longer contaminated — and no longer orange — the health department says it should take between 24 to 48 hours to receive the EPA test results of the river, at which point they’ll re-evaluate the closure of the river.
[Lead image via Shutterstock]