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EPA triples estimate of gold-mine wastewater spill to 3 million gallons

EPA triples estimate of gold-mine wastewater spill to 3 million gallons
The Animas River flows through Durango, Colo., showing the effects of 3 million gallons of contaminated water that spilled from an old gold mine. (David Kelly / For The Times)

An Environmental Protection Agency official said Sunday that the amount of heavy-metal-laced wastewater that spilled from Colorado's Gold King Mine into the Animas River is three times its initial estimate.

The agency says 3 million gallons spilled into the river Wednesday and Thursday, instead of 1 million gallons. The revision came after the EPA used a stream gauge from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Four days after the EPA-caused spill turned the water a mucky orange and then yellow, the agency has been unable to determine whether humans or aquatic life face health risks. However, EPA toxicologist Deborah McKean said the sludge moved so quickly after the spill that it would not have "caused significant health effects" to animals that consumed the water.

The discolored water from the spill stretched more than 100 miles from where it originated near the historic mining town of Silverton into the New Mexico municipalities of Farmington, Aztec and Kirtland.

The leading edge of the plume was headed toward Utah and Montezuma Creek near the town of Bluff, a tourist destination. The town, which is populated by a few hundred people, is surrounded by scenic sandstone bluffs.

Local officials were preparing to shut down two wells that serve Montezuma Creek, said Rex Kontz, deputy general manager for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

To keep water flowing to homes, the residential tank in Halchita has been filled with clean water hauled 40 miles from Arizona.

The EPA has not said how long cleanup efforts will take. An EPA-supervised crew trying to enter the mine to pump out and treat the water caused the spill.

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