Animas River turns orange as contaminates such as copper, lead and others flow from mine

About 3 million gallons of mine waste spilled into a Colorado river on Aug. 5, turning the water bright orange and forcing officials to warn residents to avoid recreational use of the Animas River.

Days after that spill scientists were still learning the effects of it. Testing of the water continues, including tests to determine the health of fish, and communities along the river have closed intake valves.

“Collection, transportation and lab analysis of metals in water is complex and time-consuming,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement about testing the water.

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The EPA said sampling done at various points along the Animas River last week showed levels of copper, lead, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and mercury that were extremely high compared with acceptable levels set by the agency. A sample of mercury was nearly 10 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels.

The spill is the result of an accident inadvertently caused by EPA workers looking into reports that a mine was leaking contaminated water. The EPA says the spill occurred when one of its teams was using heavy equipment to enter the Gold King Mine, a suspended mine near Durango. Instead of entering the mine and beginning the process of pumping and treating the contaminated water inside as planned, the team accidentally caused it to flow into the nearby Animas River.

By Aug. 10, some levels were starting to return to normal, but residents are still urged to avoid contact with the river.

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