Arsenic detected in Animas River after toxic spill, EPA confirms

Posted at 6:47 PM, Aug 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-11 20:47:55-04

DURANGO, Colo. – Toxicologists are calling the environmental disaster of the Animas River a “real mess.”

The Environmental Protection Agency confirms 3 million gallons of toxic waste water that spilled into the river contained arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

On Tuesday morning, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper got an up close look at the Animas River at a fish hatchery in Durango. Wildlife leaders showed him cages set up in the river so he could see how the pollution is affecting fish and other animals. The river is slowly turning back to its original blue color.

Six days ago, workers from the EPA accidentally released more than 3 million gallons of mining waste water from a Colorado gold mine, turning the river dark orange. The mine waste contains arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

“The indications are that the threat to human health is returning back to pre-event levels if not already there now is getting there certainly very optimistic in the near future we can be able to reopen the river,” Hickenlooper said.

The plume flowed downstream 100 miles to New Mexico making it dangerous for communities and farmers. People living along the river worry that the damaging effects of this disaster could last for years.

“We could lose our animals, it could damage our crops, it will destroy the soil, you know we really need some numbers," said Dores Stock, a farmer from New Mexico.

The plume was expected to make its way to Utah since the Animas feeds into the San Juan River, which eventually feeds into Lake Powell. But the Utah Department of Environmental Quality says it can’t find it.

DEQ says they are waiting to test water samples, which they should receive Wednesday. Meantime the EPA is taking full responsibility for this environmental disaster and working closely with all parties involved.

“In terms of the EPA, I can assure you they are already working to make sure that they have the protocols in place so that if something like this ever happens again, they will respond very rapidly and have a whole set of protocols how to do... certainly they did not respond the way they would expect themselves to respond, in other words they are not satisfied with their response and they shouldn't be,” Hickenlooper said.

The EPA has not declared the water to be safe. In the meantime, they’re warning people not to use it. San Juan County leaders tell FOX 13 News the Navajo Nation’s Utility Company is hauling water to tanks and pumping it into homes so people can shower. Experts worry about potential health problems that could develop if people are exposed to high levels of heavy metals.