River waste contains lead, arsenic

Local News

FARMINGTON, N.M.  (KRQE) – The Environmental Protection Agency is calling the spill of more than one million gallons of waste from a Colorado mine a huge tragedy and disaster. Now, a river of orange-colored discharge is flowing into New Mexico after Wednesday’s accidental release of mine waste into a tributary of the Animas River.

Friday, EPA officials confirmed that the waste has tested positive for lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum and copper.

The EPA did not mention whether the elements posed a health hazard, but said local authorities made the right decision to close the Animas River to human activities.

The Animas River flows through Durango and into New Mexico where it is about to travel through Aztec and Farmington. The contaminants flowed through Durango and across the New Mexico state line Thursday night.

Many were demanding answers including the president of The Navajo Nation.

“We are demanding from the U.S. EPA an immediate release of detailed information on the type of contaminants that is flowing into the river from the Gold King Mine,” President Begaye said. “This is an all too familiar story on the lax oversight responsibility of the U.S. government.

President Begaye prepared tribal programs to monitor the river.

“We have alerted Navajo EPA, Department of Health, and Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program to inform our people about the dangers of using contaminated water. Be on alert, take care of your children, pets and livestock near the river,” President Begaye said.

It’s prompted communities along the route to shut off valves leading to water supplies since the Animas is the main feed into the San Juan River. Farmington officials have shut their intake valves to protect drinking water and are urging residents to do the same.

The EPA has taken full responsibility for the disaster. Officials say they broke through a rock damn at the mine near Silverton that caused the million plus gallons to spill.There is no timetable to open the drinking water intakes along the river for cities that use the Animas as a water source.

EPA officials say there will be long term impacts because of sediment that is settling along the Animas.

They don’t know the long term effects of this spill.

Fish and Wildlife experts are placing sample fish in the water near Durango. Of the 106 testing fish so far only one has died. They are also testing the water to see if there is mercury in it.

Officials say that the water won’t reach the Rio Grande even though part of the Rio Grande’s water comes from the San Juan tributaries. They say the source of water is farther east near Chama, an area not hit by the spill.

Authorities are urging people to stay out of the river.

Community members who use wells in the proximity of the Animas or San Juan River (below Farmington), are being urged not to use their wells for drinking, cooking, or bathing, until they have been tested. The New Mexico Environment Department will be providing free testing at the San Juan County Fair on Monday, August 10, 2015.

Potable water stations have been set up for residents at the following locations:
  • Center Point Fire Station # 1 – 16 Road 2755
  • Flora Vista Fire Station #1 – 2 Road 3275
  • Valley Fire Station #4 – 4 Road 6200
Stations will be open :
  • Friday 8/7/15 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday 8/8/15 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Sunday 8/9/15 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Bring your own water containers. No large tanks.
As more information becomes available, updates will be sent out via media releases and on Facebook at the following locations:

A Call Center has been set up for the public in La Plata County, Colorado at 970-385-8700.

Information is also available on the La Plata County website athttp://www.co.laplata.co.us/emergency, San Juan Basin Health Department’s Website at www.sjbhd.org, La Plata County Government Facebook, and San Juan Basin Health Department Facebook.

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