Governors declare emergencies; EPA criticized for accident that sent contaminants into river system
The governors of Colorado and New Mexico declared emergencies Monday, freeing up state funds to help clean up a mine spill that sent an estimated three million gallons of toxic, mustard-hued sludge surging through the regional river system.
The announcements allocate $500,000 in state money for Colorado and an additional $750,000 for New Mexico, on top of $500,000 disbursed Friday. The spill occurred Wednesday after an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup crew accidentally triggered a breach in an abandoned gold mine, releasing a plume of contaminated water.
“I had the chance to see the spill with my own eyes. It is absolutely devastating, and I am heartbroken by this environmental catastrophe,” said New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, adding she was concerned about the EPA’s “lack of communication.”
The EPA has apologized for the accident, with one official calling it a tragedy. The agency also said it regretted a slow response that has drawn sharp criticism from officials and residents in Colorado and New Mexico.
The sludge, which flowed down the Animas River and emptied into the San Juan River in New Mexico, contains such contaminants as lead and arsenic from the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton, Colo., one of thousands of abandoned mines across the western U.S.
“Our priority remains to ensure public safety and minimize environmental impacts,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. “We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
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