The Latest: EPA chief to visit areas affected by mine spill

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Posted: Aug 11, 2015 5:38 PM
The Latest: EPA chief to visit areas affected by mine spill

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — The latest in the Colorado mine spill (all times local):

3:36 p.m.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will visit areas in the Southwest affected by contaminated wastewater that spilled from a Colorado mine.

Gina McCarthy's office announced Tuesday that she would visit Colorado and New Mexico on Wednesday. Congressional members from those states had sent letters to her earlier this week, asking her to come see the extent of the damage firsthand.

The lawmakers said it's critical she sees the need for substantial cleanup efforts.

An EPA-led crew accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of mine waste last week that turned a Colorado river mustard yellow and traveled downstream.

State and local officials say residents still have questions about when their water will be safe to drink or use for crops or livestock.

McCarthy said she understands the frustrations but that the agency is working around the clock to analyze data.

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1:50 p.m.

There are no plans so far to slow water flows on the Colorado River below Lake Powell because of a mine spill upstream in Colorado.

Chris Watt, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City, says it's too early to say what the effects of the contamination might be. The agency is testing water at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Utah officials say the progress of the wastewater that was accidentally released by an EPA crew is hard to track because it's been diluted and is no longer the distinct yellow color seen closer to the Colorado spill site.

Calculations indicate the pollution has reached Utah, but tests haven't confirmed it because the water's chemistry has returned to normal.

The waste is expected to reach Lake Powell and then the Colorado River by midweek. The lower stretch of the river serves parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

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12:09 p.m.

Colorado's governor thinks a mine spill accidentally triggered by an EPA crew will move the state and federal government to more aggressively tackle the "legacy of pollution" left by mining in the West.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that much of the wastewater has been plugged up, but the state and the Environmental Protection Agency need to speed up work to identify the most dangerous areas and clean them up.

The former geologist says that if there's a "silver lining" to the disaster, it will be a new relationship between the state and the EPA to solve the problem.

During a visit to the Animas River in Durango, downstream from the spill, Hickenlooper said tremendous progress has already been made. He hopes the river will be open for recreation in the next few days.

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11:50 a.m.

Davis Filfred, a Navajo Nation Council delegate, says residents on the reservation near the Four Corners area who depend on drinking water from a river contaminated by mine waste have 90 days' worth of water in reserve.

Filfred said Tuesday in Utah that he doesn't know how long the reservation could truck in water and that farmers depend on the San Juan River to irrigate about 30,000 acres of crops.

Communities along the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah have been forced to stop using river water after 3 million gallons of wastewater spilled from an old Colorado mine.

Filfred said the tribe is frustrated by a lack of information from the federal government about whether the pollutants are harmful to humans and livestock.

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11:08 a.m.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it "pains me to no end" to see the 3 million gallons of mine waste that has turned a southwest Colorado river into an orange-colored pollution stream.

Gina McCarthy made the comments Tuesday in Washington, D.C., as her agency came under siege after federal and contract workers accidentally unleashed the spill as they inspected an abandoned mine.

She took full responsibility for the spill and said the EPA is working around the clock to assess the environmental impact.

The mine waste contains arsenic, lead and other heavy metals and has flowed at least 100 miles downstream to New Mexico.

McCarthy called the spill tragic and said the agency's commitment is to "get this right and protect public health."

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10:33 a.m.

Tuesday marks the first day people affected by a Colorado mine spill can file claims with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency accidentally unleashed the contaminated wastewater last week as federal and contract workers inspected the abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado. The agency estimates more than 3 million gallons of sludge laden with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals flowed at least 100 miles downstream to New Mexico.

Communities and farmers along the Animas and San Juan rivers were forced to stop using river water, and it's unclear when it will be safe to resume irrigating.

The EPA says it's committed to taking responsibility for the spill and effects to downstream communities.

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9:53 a.m.

Colorado's governor is visiting a stretch of river contaminated by yellow wastewater that spilled from an abandoned mine.

Gov. John Hickenlooper began his visit Tuesday with a tour of a fish hatchery in the southwestern city of Durango. Cages have been placed in the Animas River there to catch fish and measure any effects on them from the spill. So far, officials say they see no problems.

Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration for the area Monday, releasing $500,000 to assist businesses and towns affected after a federal mine cleanup operation accidentally released millions of gallons of sludge containing heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.

Stretches of the Animas River and the San Juan River it flows into have also been declared disaster areas in New Mexico.