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EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Colorado's Animas River

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EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Animas

EPA Releases Mine Waste Into Colorado's Animas River

The Environmental Protection Agency unintentionally released about a million gallons of yellow sludge from a Colorado mine into the Animas River on Thursday. Officials downstream blasted the agency for not initially taking the spill more seriously.

New Mexico’s environment secretary said the EPA initially downplayed the danger the contamination posed to public safety and wildlife.

"Our reaction the first day was not appropriate," said Shaun McGrath, EPA spokesman. "We’ve very much changed our response"

McGrath spoke to community members at a meeting in Durango on Friday.

"Unfortunately our early comments may have sounded cavalier about the public health concern and concern about wildlife," McGrath said. "I want to assure the EPA is absolutely concerned about protecting public health and the environment."

The EPA and Colorado Reclamation, Mining and Safety team were investigating contamination at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, when they triggered the dam breach. No workers were injured.

"I’m very sorry for what happened," said David Ostrander, EPA’s director of emergency preparedness. "This is a huge tragedy. We typically respond to emergencies. We don’t cause them."

The agency has built a settling pond for the ongoing leakage and is testing river samples to analyze the extent of damage. They know several metals, including lead and arsenic, were released.

The Animas flows into the San Juan River, then the Colorado River. Forty million people, including several tribes, depend on the Colorado for drinking water. 

The EPA anticipates ongoing ramifications and river closures in the future.

More Gold King Mine Coverage

Known as “the informer” among her siblings, Laurel Morales came by reporting naturally.She’s been a public radio reporter since 1998, cutting tape with a razor blade at KQED’s California Report. She traded in her flip-flops for snow boots to work for Minnesota Public Radio, where she received her first digital recorder. But Morales has spent most of her career in northern Arizona where she’s had the honor to witness a Miss Navajo sheep butchering contest, a Havasupai medicine woman’s ceremony, and a group of blind teens hike the Grand Canyon.She joined KJZZ’s Fronteras Desk in 2011. In 2017, Morales produced a multi-platform project called Earth+Bone about what tribes believe to be sacred and what Westerners consider fair game. She’s won several awards for her work, including a national Edward R. Murrow Award for her continuing coverage of the Yarnell Hill Fire. She earned her master’s in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.