On Aug. 5, Environmental Protection Agency workers at the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado were supposed to be pumping out the contaminated water, but instead, a leak sprung, causing 3 million gallons of water tainted with heavy metal to spill into the Animas River.O
The level of lead in the contaminated water was found to be 12,000 times the normal amount of lead in a sample found after the spill. In addition to lead, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, zinc, iron and copper were also found in the wastewater. This mix of metals caused the water to turn a distinct golden color.
The spilled water could cause lead poisoning, but it is hard to detect at low levels. It has the possibility of slowing down a child’s development and can cause learning disabilities if they are affected.
So far, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico have been affected. The waste has spilled in the Animas River, which carried the waste into New Mexico, and it has also flowed into the San Juan River, which carried the waste into Utah.
It’s hard to say how many people have been affected, as the banks around the river are sparsely populated. However, it is known that the largest town affected is Farmington, New Mexico, with a population of 45,000. The second largest town affected has been Durango, Colorado, at 17,000.
Residents are concerned about the water and its effect on irrigation and groundwater. Many communities are taking legal action against the EPA for the spill, since they rely heavily on the river water. Farmington, for example, has 90 days of water reserves before needing to use river water for irrigation.
Earthworks, an environmental activist organization, says there are 500,000 other old mines similar to Gold King Mine that need to be cleaned up. While the level of contamination in the Animas River is slowly returning to normal a week after the spill, the health affects of the contamination won’t become apparent for years.