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Mine Wastewater Raises Long Term Concerns Over Colorado Animas River Spill

For a few days in August, 2015, Colorado’s Animas River turned mustard yellow, the result of an accident while cleaning up the abandoned Gold King Mine. EPA workers misread the strength of a temporary dam, leading to an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater spewing into the river.

Colorado Animas River


At one point, the yellow streak of sludge covered over 100 miles, reaching into New Mexico. Ultimately, the heavy metal-laden water could pass into Utah and to Lake Powell, one of the nation’s largest water reservoirs.

In addition to the embarrassment of causing the problem, the EPA is also taking heat for not reporting the spill immediately, instead waiting a day to warn locals of the potential threat.

The contaminated and acidic water is a potpourri of potentially harmful heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, mercury, iron, zinc, cadmium, manganese, and aluminum. At one point, arsenic levels in the river peaked at 26 times the level deemed acceptable by the EPA. Lead levels were even worse, measured at 12,000 times the acceptable standard.

The consequences of the spill are far-reaching. While the EPA claims the wastewater possesses no threat to wildlife, the organization also urged people to avoid using the water for recreational use until the river clears. Framers have been asked not to use irrigation from the river to avoid contamination of food and soil, and the EPA estimates over 1,000 wells may be contaminated by the wastewater.

Heavy metals may settle to the riverbed, raising the possibility for long-term health and environmental issues. Health problems associated with heavy metals can take decades to develop. Long-term exposure to excessive levels of cadmium damages the kidneys. Mercury exposure can cause neurological problems. Lead poisoning is associated with developmental delays, learning disabilities, muscle and joint pain, and an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth.

The Animas River spill made news because the damage was clearly visible. Often, it’s the less obvious contaminants people need to worry about. Contact a water specialist at Pelican Water today to discuss any water quality issues that may be affecting your household and find a solution today.

Disclaimer: The information on this website has not been reviewed by the FDA. Products offered for sale herein are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition. No medical claims are being made or implied. Contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.

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