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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

America's environmental watchdog spilled chemicals into a river and turned it orange

And caused a state of emergency.

Mine Waste Leak Source: Apexchange

THE HEAD OF America’s Environmental Protection Agency says that her department takes full responsibility for spilling three million gallons of mining waste that turned a southwest Colorado river an unnatural shade of orange, adding it “pains me to no end.”

Gina McCarthy made the comments as her agency comes under increased scrutiny after federal and contract workers accidentally unleashed the spill last week while inspecting the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado. The state has declared a state of emergency over the spill.

The contaminated water that flowed into a tributary of the Animas and San Juan rivers contained high levels of arsenic, lead and other potentially toxic heavy metals. McCarthy expressed regret that the spill occurred and said her agency has “added responsibility here.”

Ben Brown Ben Brown, with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, takes a pH level reading from a probe in the San Juan River. Source: Apexchange

“It is really a tragic and very unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that that spill is cleaned up,” McCarthy said. “I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened.”

The accident comes at a sensitive time for the EPA, a frequent and favorite target of conservatives and pro-business groups. McCarthy spoke Tuesday as part of an event on the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which mandates steep greenhouse gas emission cuts from U.S. power plants.

State and local officials in the areas affected by the spill have characterised EPA’s initial response as too slow and too small. It took about 24 hours to first notify some downstream communities of the accident and the agency originally underestimated the volume of the spill.

Gold King Mine Source: Apexchange

The plume of pollution has since flowed at least 100 miles downstream to New Mexico, where towns and cities have been forced to close their intake valves to protect public water supplies.

What started as a three-million-gallon orange-hued plume last Wednesday in the swift-moving Animas River dissolved from view as it made its way down the slower San Juan River in New Mexico.

No longer easily visible, it was nevertheless flowing on into Utah and the Lake Powell reservoir in the direction of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon, leaving behind questions as to its long-term impact.

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