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EPA officials say Animas River water safe to drink again after toxic spill

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EPA says water quality data shows Animas River water in La Plata County is back to normal but impact of heavy metal load in river sediment could last years

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said late Wednesday that data shows water quality in one affected Colorado county has “returned to pre-event conditions” following a toxic mining spill in the Animas River.

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The Colorado department of public health and environment also said on Wednesday that people in the city of Durango can now drink water from the Animas River.

The EPA caused the spill of acidic and heavy metal-laden mining wastewater Wednesday while investigating the inactive Gold King gold mine near Silverton, Colorado.

“We have water quality data from August 7, 8 and 9 from La Plata County that show levels have returned to pre-event conditions,” McCarthy said at a news conference in Durango.

But La Plata County, which includes Durango, is just one small part of the land mass affected by the toxic plume, which initially tested for high levels of lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. One week after the spill, the plume had flowed into the San Juan River, and has closed waterways flowing through Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation.

The EPA’s investigation was meant to remediate the site as part of a project on the nearby Red and Bonita mine.

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The headwaters of the Animas River, primarily Cement Creek where the EPA spilled the slurry, have been known to be polluted for years and don’t support aquatic life. There, some toxic acid mine waste has been leaching into tributaries of the Animas for decades.

But the sheer volume and color of the waste leached Wednesday made the spill remarkable.

The EPA initially estimated that 1m gallons of the toxic orange-brown sludge with the acidity of beer had spilled into the Animas River, but four days later upped that estimate to 3m gallons of fluorescent waste.

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McCarthy said there is a “hiatus” on similar investigations at mines across the US until officials determine the cause of the spill. The EPA is conducting an internal investigation and said it is expecting an independent inquiry.

Even after the shocking orange-colored initial plume abated, hundreds of gallons of acidic mining wastewater continued to spill every minute. Settling ponds are now capturing water spilling out of the mine, an effort by the EPA to treat the waste before it is released into Cement Creek.

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Information on the spill’s impacts on human and environmental health, however, have been sparse, as the EPA waits for analysis of the heavy metal load in both the water column and sediment. Generally, heavy metal loads in the water column are considered less harmful than those in sediment, which can persist for years and be disturbed by natural events such as spring melt.

The EPA’s response to the disaster has been widely criticized by local environmentalists. Many have said the data released by the agency are incomplete without comparisons to historical data or other context and interpretation about what its impacts could be, and that the EPA waited too long to respond to the disaster.

Pressures to reopen the waterways are also beginning to mount as the color of the Animas begins to return to normal, local environmentalists say, and as businesses along the Animas suffer tourist season losses.

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‘We followed the president’s orders’: Sondland leaves no wiggle room for Trump’s direct involvement in Ukraine scandal

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European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland will leave no wiggle room for President Donald Trump to deny his direct involvement in the Ukraine scandal in his bombshell opening statement.

As reported by the Daily Beast, Sondland will testify that he followed President Donald Trump's orders to work with personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on dealing with Ukraine, despite the fact that he was personally reluctant to do so.

"Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States," the statement says. "We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders."

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Sondland directly implicates Trump and Giuliani in ‘quid pro quo’ in bombshell opening statement

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European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland is directly implicating both President Donald Trump and attorney Rudy Giuliani in running a "quid pro quo" scheme to condition a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on launching an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Daily Beast has obtained excerpts of Sondland's opening statement that show the EU ambassador will make clear that Giuliani wanted a quid pro quo with Ukraine -- and that he was pushing for it with Trump's encouragement.

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Fox News host appears confused how phone calls work while doubting impeachment witnesses

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On Tuesday's edition of "Fox & Friends," co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned the impeachment testimony of State Department aide David Holmes — and in the process, revealed his confusion about how telephone calls work.

"Now the big thing is, something that's not addressed, nobody else has seen, and no one's really questioned, is that when David Holmes came out and said, I was hanging out in a restaurant, having a bottle of wine, and I listened over, and there's the E.U. ambassador talking to what I think's the president," said Kilmeade. "Amazingly, he heard both sides of the phone call, and at which time Sondland said to the president that Zelensky 'loves your [ass]' ... Now we have not seen Sondland say that's true or not true, and I also find it hard to believe that people just accept that you can hear both sides of a phone call 3,000 or 5,000 miles away. I've never heard both sides of a phone call when you have it to your ear!"

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