San Juan County issues Declaration of Emergency in wake of EPA spill

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The scene of a mine waste release in Colorado. Image via EPA On-Scene Coordinator website.

(CNN) — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Wednesday the agency “takes full responsibility” for the spill of 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River in Colorado, and in the same afternoon San Juan County Utah issued a Declaration of Emergency and a Utah Congressman was among those who called for the Inspector General to investigate the incident and the EPA’s management of it.

An EPA crew accidentally caused the spill August 5 while working at a suspended gold mine near Durgango. Many state and local officials have criticized the agency for not responding more quickly.

“We are going to be fully accountable for this in a transparent way,” McCarthy said at a press conference. “The EPA takes full responsibility for this incident. No agency could be more upset.”

The heavy-metals-laden contaminants turned the Animas River a shade of mustard fit for a Crayola crayon box.

Fears of serious health risks quickly surfaced, but Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Larry Wolk said Tuesday the river is returning to normal.

McCarthy repeated those findings Wednesday, saying the river appeared to be returning to “pre-incident conditions.”

On Wednesday, the chairmen of the House Oversight and Subcommittee on the Interior, including Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, called for the EPA to investigate the Colorado spill.

“We request that you investigate this incident and its ensuing management by EPA and provide recommendations to the agency to ensure that any mistakes will not be repeated in the future,” wrote U.S. Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Cynthia M. Lummis.

The full letter can be read below, but it cites the EPA’s initial statement that one million gallons was released and a later total found to be 3 million gallons as a cause for concern, as well as reports that various groups have, “experienced difficulty in getting information from the EPA in a timely fashion.”

Oversight and Governement Reform Committee Asks Inspector General to Investigate EPA

Oversight and Governement Reform Committee Asks Inspector General to Investigate EPA by kstumarkgreen

The San Juan County Utah Office of Emergency Management announced that commissioner Phil Lyman has signed a Declaration of Emergency regarding the contamination.

The press release states in part: “The communities of San Juan County have been affected by having their water system jeopardized by the contamination. Farther reaching conditions are the contamination of the San Juan River and the residents of the county and livestock not being able to utilize water from the San Juan River. Also there is the economic impact to the County in the form of recreation on the river and at Lake Powell being at risk.”

The release states health officials have advised a precautionary emergency declaration. The release states public health officials in the county have been regularly testing water quality, “and indications are that, while threat appears to be minimal, the reality that the short-term and long-term effect could be serious, even catastrophic, extreme caution is appropriate until further information is available.”

San Juan County Declaration of Emergency

Tune in to FOX 13 News at 4 and 5 p.m. for the latest on the spill and it’s impact on Utah and other states, including comments from several Attorneys General for the states impacted by the wastewater spill.

See the links below for FOX 13’s prior coverage of the incident:

Arsenic detected in Animas River after toxic spill, EPA confirms

Plume from mine spill can’t be found in Utah river

EPA spill: ‘The magnitude of it, you can’t even describe it’

Waste released from mine in Colorado now estimated at 3 million gallons

3 comments

  • Steve Wilson

    One relatively simple and PERMANENT solution for those downstream to purchase a good Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. DO NOT depend on cheap refrigerator filters, Britta filters, Pure filters, etc. since most will not remove arsenic. RO systems are available at hardware stores and Costco. Good 3-stage RO systems cost $1000+ are available from EcoWater. The local Albuquerque dealer is Universal Water Systems. Phone: 505-881-2142.

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