Friday 30 September 2016

Toxic waste water turns US river bright yellow

The discharge contains high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead and residents have been advised to avoid drinking or bathing in water drawn from wells in the area

Published 11/08/2015 | 07:45

People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in water colored from a mine waste spill. Photo: Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP
People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in water colored from a mine waste spill. Photo: Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

COLORADO Governor John Hickenlooper yesterday declared a "state of disaster emergency" over the accidental release of more than three million gallons (11.3 million liters) of potentially toxic wastewater from a defunct Colorado gold mine into local streams.

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The waste water has turned parts of the Animas River a bright mustard yellow and now threatens to enter a lake that provides large parts of America's southwest with drinking water.

Mr Hickenlooper said the order would free up some $500,000 from a state fund for response efforts to the spill, which was inadvertently triggered last week by a team of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers.

The discharge, containing high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, was continuing to flow at the rate of 500 gallons (1,900 liters) per minute as of Sunday.

An unspecified number of residents living downstream of the spill who draw their drinking supplies from their private wells have reported water discoloration, but there has been no immediate evidence of harm to human health, livestock or wildlife, according to EPA officials.

Still, residents have been advised to avoid drinking or bathing in water drawn from wells in the vicinity, and the government was arranging to supply clean water to homes and businesses in need.

Yellow waste water that had been held behind a barrier near the abandoned Gold King Mine is seen in the Animas River in Durango, Colorado, in this picture from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department
Yellow waste water that had been held behind a barrier near the abandoned Gold King Mine is seen in the Animas River in Durango, Colorado, in this picture from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department

"We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn't happen again," Mr Hickenlooper said in a written statement released by his office.

The spill began on Wednesday after an EPA inspection team was called to the abandoned mine near the town of Silverton in southwestern Colorado to examine previously existing wastewater seepage.

By Friday, the main plume of the spill had traveled some 75 miles (120 km) south to the New Mexico border, prompting utilities in the towns of Aztec and Farmington to shut off their intakes from the Animas River, one of the main waterways affected, local authorities said.

Agency officials said they were consulting with representatives of the Navajo Nation, whose sprawling reservation borders Farmington and the San Juan River.

Tribal officials with the Navajo Nation declared an emergency as a massive plume of contaminated wastewater flowed down the San Juan River on Monday toward Lake Powell in Utah, which supplies much of the water to the Southwest.

Some drinking water systems on the Navajo Nation have shut down their intake systems and stopped diverting water from the river.

Drinking water is being hauled in to some communities.

Navajo President Russell Begaye said the tribe is frustrated with the US Environmental Protection Agency and he plans to take legal action.

Reuters

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