The Environmental Protection Agency sent out a team to the abandoned Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado on Wednesday to have it checked and cleaned up, but it ended up in a heavy flow of wastewater.
The mine released 1 million gallons of yellowish wastewater that has flowed to Utah and New Mexico.
According to Joan Card, EPA Regional Director Shaun McGrath, there is now way for the agency to get the yellow water out of the rivers, and that it will eventually dissipate. However, there is no estimate as to when exactly the wastewater will completely disappear.
EPA initially sent out its investigation team to assess the mine's current water releases, treat the water and look at the feasibility of remediating mining activity. Loose material had collapsed into the mine's cave entry and the agency wanted to excavate it back to the timbering. As the team went out to conduct the investigation, the loose material gave way and opened up the mineral tunnel, EPA informed. Water that had been stored behind the collapsed material leaked into the Center Creek accessible to the Animas River.
The EPA said that it has already taken water samples and is currently analyzing the spill. It found that the water contained aluminum, cadmium, copper and calcium, but the concentrations are still unknown.
No health hazards have been reported since the spill, but concerned groups are taking extra precaution, just to be sure.
Heavy metals, for example, can be deadly for humans and animals that have been exposed in long-term situations. High levels of arsenic, for example, may cause blindness, paralysis and cancer. Lead poisoning, on the other hand, may lead to muscle and vision problems for adults, kidney disease, harm fetus and child development and possibly death in children.
People residing in the vicinity of the affected areas are asked to stay away from the waters and keep domesticated animals clear from drinking the said contaminated waters. The Animas River flows into the Juan River in New Mexico, which further runs through to Utah, joining the Colorado River in Lake Powell.
More than seven water facilities shut their water intake valves down, in time to keep the water out of their systems. Farmers closed their irrigation gates to protect crops. No reports have been made on drinking contaminated water; however, fish and other river animals are at a risk, about a hundredfold since the spill. Officials also released water from at least one reservoir, to help in dilating the pollution.
In New Mexico, officials said they were only informed of the accentual wastewater spill on Thursday, prompting the state's New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn to say, "New Mexico deserves better."
The EPA apologized, admitting that their initial response was not appropriate as at the time, the full extent of what they will be faced with was not considered.
Officials said the contamination will likely settle to sediment in Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. Starting Monday, visitors will be warned to stay away from drinking, swimming and boating on affected areas.