Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

Lead, arsenic waste from Colorado mine expected to reach Utah

By Dan Elliott and Colleen Slevin, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 7, 2015 at 10:47 p.m.


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DENVER (AP) — Federal environmental officials have confirmed the mustard-colored muck that surged into a river from a Colorado mine contained heavy metals including lead and arsenic, but they didn't immediately discuss amounts or health risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that the spill also contained cadmium, aluminum, copper and calcium. EPA Regional Director Shaun McGrath did not mention whether the elements posed a health hazard but said local authorities were right to close the Animas River to human activities.

The EPA says it has no way to get the discolored water out of the river and that it will eventually dissipate. It wasn't clear when that will happen.

The wastewater was accidentally released Wednesday by a cleanup team at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado. An estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste spilled into a creek that flows into the Animas River.

Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said he expects the sludge to reach Utah by Friday afternoon after it joins the San Juan River near Farmington, New Mexico.

The United States Bureau of Reclamation has increased water released from the Navajo Dam, which sits above the confluence on the San Juan, Baker said. Normal releases are 650 cubic feet per second at this time of year. By Friday afternoon, it will ramp up to 1,300 cfs, Baker said.

The San Juan is popular for river runners, with day trippers riding between Bluff and Mexican Hat. Multi-day trips run from Mexican Hat down to Clay Hills, just above where the San Juan meets Lake Powell. The Bureau of Land Management's Monticello Field Office manages permits for that section of the river and advises river runners to avoid the San Juan until further notice.

The EPA says tests also were being done in New Mexico where the two rivers meet, but no information has been released.

Earlier Friday, New Mexico's environment secretary, Ryan Flynn, the EPA downplayed the danger the contamination posed to wildlife, saying that potential harm couldn't be known until the contents of the wastewater and their concentrations are known.

The EPA has said people should stay out of the river. Water utilities have closed intake valves to protect their systems.

Contributing: Dave Cawley, Geoff Liesik

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    Colleen Slevin

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