A plume of yellow sludge spilling from an old gold mine into the Animas River in Colorado has arrived in New Mexico. Communities affected by the sludge have a 90-day water supply, and water treatment plants are no longer drawing from the river. A cleanup crew supervised by the EPA accidentally breached a dam in the gold mine, which has been closed for more than 80 years, allowing approximately 1 million gallons of wastewater to spill into the river on Wednesday. Officials still don't know how bad the situation is.
No health hazard has been detected as tests continue, but officials say the spill contains heavy metals like arsenic and lead, in addition to cadmium, aluminum, copper, and calcium. Downstream from the spill, contaminated water was registering an acidic pH level on par with black coffee, and approximately 700 gallons of water are still spilling from the mine every minute. The EPA warned people to stay out of the river and to keep domestic animals from drinking from it, while local officials declared stretches off-limits in Colorado and New Mexico. The Animas flows into the San Juan River in New Mexico, and the San Juan flows into Utah, where it joins the Colorado River in Lake Powell. (Read more environmental damage stories.)