Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety accidently triggered the release of more than 3 million gallons of waste water from a shuttered gold mine while working to secure the entrance to the mine in southern Colorado.
The water spilled into the Animas River and within a week has affected communities in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the incident was, “in every sense, unacceptable.”
He added that the long-term effects of the spill, which reportedly happened as the EPA was working to the seal the mine using heavy equipment, were still unknown. Six days after the spill, many of those affected by the spill felt the same way as the answers to many questions were still unknown.
Like other Colorado politicians, Hickenlooper said he was angered by the EPA’s response to the spill at the Gold King Mine near Silverton on Aug. 5, but said he felt hopeful after receiving data showing the Animas’ metal and acidity levels were returning to normal.
“I fully expect there will be a process of accountability,” he said, standing with Durango’s mayor before a crowd of residents and large group of media.
The EPA expanded its response to the disaster, delivering bottled water in Colorado, New Mexico and Navajo Country and testing for contaminants as far as Lake Powell.
The acidic heavy metals that flooded into Cement Creek and the Animas in southwestern Colorado — including arsenic, lead, copper and cadmium — initially broke state water quality limits, based on data the EPA has released.
Hickenlooper on Aug. 10, declared a disaster and freed up $500,000 for the response. La Plata County and Durango have declared local emergencies.
Federal and state officials have not definitively said if the water is safe for consumption. More than 100 trout put into the Animas in Durango for testing as the contaminated water passed through were not immediately affected or killed, officials say.