The saddest news hit us last Wednesday after contractors working for an Environmental Protection Agency clean up team, spilled 3 million gallons of toxic mining waste into the Animas River in Colorado, from a gold mine that has been inactive since 1920.
The spill has spread from Colorado into New Mexico and now into Utah, causing a severe environmental damage, affecting over 100 river miles.
According to EPA the spill was triggered at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the mine on the upper portions of Cement Creek, about 55 miles north of Durango. The fluid was being held behind some debris near an abandoned mine portal.
Several toxicologists performing tests on the Animas River were pretty concerned about the water results. “This is a real mess,” said Max Costa, chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, to CNN. “These levels are shocking.”
According to sampling done by the EPA on various points along the Animas River Wednesday and Thursday last week, levels of lead, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and mercury were extremely high compared with acceptable levels set by the agency, which are technically called “maximum contaminant levels” or “action levels for treatment.”
One of the samples of mercury was nearly 10 times higher than the EPA acceptable levels. Samples of beryllium and cadmium were 33 times higher, and one of the arsenic levels was more than 800 times higher.
Exposure to high levels of these metals can cause an array of health problems from cancer to kidney disease to developmental problems in children. As per EPA, Wednesday’s spill caused a spike in these metal concentrations, but levels “began to return to pre-event conditions” by Thursday.
However, leading toxicologists say there could be health effects for many years to come from heavy metals such as lead and mercury that spilled into the water. Typically, it takes years or even decades for health problems from metals to develop.
Human Health Impacts
So far “It’s unknown whether the spill could have any human health impacts”, officials say.
It seems it still not clear what the levels of these metals would have been once they reached the input point for drinking water systems and whether the systems cut off their connection to the river water in time to avoid the contaminants.
Nonetheless, experts stated that these metals don’t disappear. Even if they go down to low levels in the water, they could likely be in the sediment and could be kicked up into the water at any time.
Mile Hi Rafting repudiates the situation and joins in people’s demands for a quick solution. We remind that according to Earthworks there are over 500,000 abandoned and inactive hardrock mines strewn across the county.
Sadly, one thing is for sure… Animas River won’t ever be the same.