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Colorado mine spill: EPA chief takes responsibility

Contaminated water contained high levels of arsenic, lead and other potentially toxic heavy metals.


August 12, 2015
by ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said her department takes full responsibility for spilling 3 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, Colo.

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.”

“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.”

State and local officials in the areas affected by the spill have characterized 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.

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.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he is closely monitoring EPA’s spill response.

McCarthy pledged a thorough review of the EPA’s role in the disaster, but said her current focus is on properly managing the response. So far, there have been no reported cases of anyone’s health being harmed by the spilled heavy metals, she said.

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