Home to many species of animals and plants, the clear water of Animas River turned bright yellow on August 5, Wednesday after a crew of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers accidentally released 3 million gallons of waste water from an abandoned mine shaft in Silverton, Colorado. Containing heavy metals including more than 300x times the safe levels of arsenic and 3500x the lead, the toxic sludge threatens crucial waterways throughout the Southwest.
Governors of Colorado and New Mexico have already declared states of emergency as the river brings toxic waste through the San Juan National Forest in New Mexico to Utah’s Lake Powell. The contaminated water is now heading towards Arizona and Grand Canyon.
Residents and business owners are advised to avoid the recreational use of the Animas River including swimming, fishing and drinking until officials are sure that it is free from contamination.
EPA is currently monitoring the effects of the waste water on the ecosystem but hasn’t provided long-term health impacts on people, aquatic life and wildlife. Moreover, no reports have been released yet on what exactly led to the spill and who should be held accountable.