Animas River Runs Yellow
Animas River runs yellow with toxic waste while kayakers float on a contaminated soup of lead, manganese, and zine.  Source:


The accidental release of 3 million gallons of toxic waste water from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado into the Animas River has caused contamination from Colorado to New Mexico and threatens Utah water supplies.

Last Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was assisting in the clean-up of a contaminated mine in Colorado when heavy equipment broke a damn at the mine releasing the contaminated water into a river near the town of Silverton, Colo. By Monday the mustard yellow waste water had spread downstream into the Animas River near Durango, Colo. and then into New Mexico’s San Juan River.

Animas River Runs Yellow
Dangerous levels of lead, zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are damaging the river’s ecosystem. Source:

Residents along the contaminated rivers in three states have been urged to shut off water supplies. Water samples in the contaminated area around Durango have shown lead concentrations 3,500 times the normal levels with dangerous amounts of manganese, zinc, copper, cadmium, and other contaminants.

In a news conference this afternoon, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters that the main concern of the EPA was the safety of residents and tourists near the river. McCarthy said that mitigating strategies employed by the EPA seem to be reducing the toxicity levels in the rivers. Despite the progress, the EPA says that the two rivers would be closed until at least Monday and encouraged people to stay away from the colorful, but deadly water. The EPA has pledged to help provide clean water for livestock in some contaminated areas.

While the current leak is an ecological disaster, it is only a small portion of toxic waste stored in thousands of contaminated mines in the state. Colorado mining practices, including the mining of uranium, have created numerous toxic sites throughout the state. Scientists studying the contamination say the area is the largest untreated mine drainage in the state with dangerous levels of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum that are damaging the river’s ecosystem.

Animas River Runs Yellow
The toxic river water threatens the water supply in three states.  Source:

In response to bad press and creepy images of toxic mustard colored waste moving downstream, several optimistic Colorado residents have posted pictures on Facebook of a mostly normal looking contaminated Animas River. The EPA warned these optimistic residents that contaminates will most like remain even after the unearthly yellow color dissipates. According to the EPA, there are seven public water supplies shutoff because of contamination.

Meanwhile downstream the toxic yellow plume is heading for the confluence of the San Juan River and the Colorado River in Utah with fears that the contamination will reach Lake Powell later this week. Several towns along the river in Utah that belong to the Navajo Nation have been forced to shut off water supplies and resort to water trucks.

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