Must-Know Facts About The EPA’s Toxic Water Spill

It’ll be years before we know the full environmental impact of the spill.

The Environmental Protection Agency — which might as well change is name to the Environmental Pollution Agency — was in the news this week for all the wrong reasons after it accidentally unleashed millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into a Colorado river. What does this mean for the environment and for the EPA? We’re diving into the sludge to find out on today’s In The Mix.


It’s a Chemical Stew
But Maybe Not as Bad as it Looks

How did this peaceful tributary turn into a torrent of toxic Orange Julius?

While an EPA mine safety crew was inspecting wastewater from an abandoned historic gold mine, they accidentally triggered a massive spill into the river. At first the agency reported that about 1 million gallons had been spilled but within days the estimate was ratcheted up to 3 million gallons.

At first, reports of the toxic soup in the river were startling: lead, arsenic, and mercury were present at dangerous levels. One test showed that the arsenic levels were 800 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable.

But now about a week after the spill — and because nature always wins — officials have reported that levels of contamination in the river are decreasing and are pushing for the river to be reopened for boating and fishing.

Then again, others have noted that the water could be dangerous for a long time to come when toxins that have settled onto the river’s floor get stirred up. Basically, it’ll be years before we know the full environmental impact of the spill.

Whose Fault is it Anyway?

Unsurprisingly it didn’t take long for this issue to get political.

Citing EPA incompetence, a failure to quickly release information, and supposed attempts downplay the magnitude of the spill, many are calling for massive repercussions for the agency.  

One major criticism is the idea that if the spill was triggered by a major corporation, they would swiftly and harshly be condemned.

And it’s true that the EPA won’t face fines the way BP was fined for its Deepwater Horizon Spill for example, because the government doesn’t fine itself. But the EPA will be responsible for managing the cleanup.

Plus, others argue that the spill shouldn’t just be blamed on the EPA since it was the mining company who left the wastewater there in the first place.

By The Numbers

Finally, here’s a look at where this all stands, by the numbers.

45,000 is the population of the biggest town near the spill. But the toxic water has affected communities in 3 states and according to CNN, about 750 nearby farmers need river water to irrigate.

90. That’s how many days of water reserves one local community has before it will need to draw from the river.

500,000 is an estimate of how many other old mines need to be cleaned up. Environmentalists say some might already be leaking wastewater.

$2 million dollars. That’s the settlement the EPA reached with Arch Coal one day after the Animas River spill. Why was Arch fined? Wastewater discharge violations from its mine.

What do you think? Should there be stronger penalties for the EPA? Is enough being done to clean up the river? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

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