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EPA admin: Gold King Spill ‘Heartbreaking’

EPA admin: Gold King Spill ‘Heartbreaking’
A man walks to the bank of the Animas River and San Juan River confluence on Saturday as contaminated wastewater flows by him in Farmington. (Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

A man walks to the bank of the Animas River and San Juan River confluence on Saturday as contaminated wastewater flows by him in Farmington. (Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

DURANGO, Colo.

Calling the accidental release of three million gallons of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine “a heartbreaking situation for the EPA,” the agency’s administrator, Gina McCarthy, on Wednesday promised both an internal and independent investigation into what went wrong.

A dam breach that released a million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River on Aug. 5 colors the river orange as it merges with the San Juan River, right, on Saturday in Farmington. Navajo Nation tribal officials have been visiting community members living along the San Juan River to inform them to not use or swim in the river's water until further notice. (Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

A dam breach that released a million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River on Aug. 5 colors the river orange as it merges with the San Juan River, right, on Saturday in Farmington. Navajo Nation tribal officials have been visiting community members living along the San Juan River to inform them to not use or swim in the river’s water until further notice. (Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

At a press conference outside the incident command center at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, McCarthy also stated cleanup efforts at other abandoned mines across the county would be “on hiatus” while the agency investigated whether any of them had similar situations to the Gold King, where a pool of toxic mine waste had collected behind a debris barrier.

A contractor had accidentally breached the barrier while excavating some material at the mine above Silverton, Colo., sending the metal laden water into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas.

“We want to prevent this from happening at another mine,” McCarthy explained.

On the good news front, water samples collected Aug. 7, 8 and 9 from the Animas River, into which the waste flowed last Wednesday, have come back from the lab and show that the river is back to its pre-spill levels of 24 metals present in the mine waste.

Results are not yet in for the upper San Juan River, which joins the Animas near Farmington, and most of the lower San Juan, where it flows into Lake Powell, has not been tested because of the difficulty with “getting boats in there.”


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About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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