EPA chief: Colorado mine spill 'pains me'

EPA chief: Colorado mine spill 'pains me'
© Getty Images

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to assure the public Tuesday that officials are taking seriously the mine waste spill it caused in a Colorado river.

Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage MORE said that the spill into the Animas River last week was “a tragic and very unfortunate incident,” and the EPA is taking full responsibility for the cleanup and recovery efforts.

ADVERTISEMENT

“EPA’s core mission is to ensure a clean environment and to protect public health, so it pains me to no end to see this is happening,” McCarthy said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., ahead of a speech on the Obama administration’s carbon dioxide emissions limits for power plants.

“But we’re working tirelessly to respond, and we’ve committed to a full review of exactly what happened, to ensure that it can never happen again,” she added.

The incident has been a major embarrassment and problem for the EPA. Politicians and leaders from around the country have called on the agency to be more transparent about what caused the spill and what risks local and downstream residents face.

Most importantly, McCarthy said, there has been no evidence that the 3 million-gallon spill — which turned the river bright orange with dissolved metals like cadmium, copper, zinc and manganese — has compromised anyone’s health.

But she gave little assurance to residents and local and state officials, who think the agency is taking too long to release information about the effects of the heavy metals on health, wildlife, ecosystems and other impacts.

“It takes time to review and analyze data, so I understand people’s frustration. But we have our researchers and our scientists working around the clock,” she said. “Our commitment is to get this right and to make sure that we’re protecting public health.”

The spill happened when EPA-contracted workers moved soil to start inspecting the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, in an effort to potentially in the future clean the high levels of contamination that had been left behind.

The crews inadvertently breached a seal on the mining waste, sending it into the river and causing closures and restrictions downstream.

McCarthy said the EPA has established command centers in Colorado and Washington, D.C., with other agencies.

It is providing water to residents with wells near the river, repeatedly testing and analyzing samples, and has built ponds to gather and filter any more waste that comes out.

Earlier Tuesday, the area’s congressional delegation called on McCarthy to visit the site immediately. Rep. Scott Tipton (R) and Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) wrote to her, asking that she conduct a public meeting in Colorado.