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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Andrew Cuomo rips Trump like never before: ‘This was the worst government blunder in modern history’
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) on Monday accused President Donald Trump of presiding over "the worse government blunder in modern history."
At his daily COVID-19 briefing, Cuomo said that it was time for the president to hit the "reset button" on his handling of the pandemic.
"If we don't tell the truth on the reset, COVID will never end," the New York governor explained. "It will ricochet across the country. It will just bounce back and forth."
"This was a colossal blunder -- how COVID was handled by this federal government," he continued. "Shame on all of you. Six months, lives lost. Hit the reset button, yes."
Trump snaps at Jim Acosta for reminding him of coronavirus death toll: ‘Fake news CNN’
President Donald Trump on Monday snapped at CNN's Jim Acosta when he reminded the president that the novel coronavirus so far has killed 155,000 Americans.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters, the president boasted that the United States had done an "amazing" job at handling the COVID-19 pandemic, at which point Acosta interrupted him and tried to ask him about the 155,000 people who have died from the disease in just five months.
"The U.S. has so many deaths," Acosta said.
"Hold it!" Trump replied.
"So many countries around the world..."
"Fake news CNN," he said. "Hold it. We have done a great job in this country. We haven't been given enough -- not me, Vice President Pence, the task force -- have not been given the kind of credit."
COVID-19 obituary blames Republicans for Texas man’s untimely end: ‘They blame his death on Trump’
One family in Texas recently used their loved one’s obituary to criticize President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for allowing “needless” COVID-19 deaths.
David W. Nagy died alone in a hospital bed, leaving behind his "inconsolable wife."
"He suffered greatly from the ravages of the COVID-19 virus and the separation from his much loved family who were not allowed at his bedside," the obituary says.
"Family members believe David's death was needless," the obituary continues. "They blame his death and the deaths of all of the other innocent people, on Trump, Abbott and all the other politicians who did not take this pandemic seriously and were more concerned with their popularity and votes than lives."