EPA Chief Reacts to Colorado Mine Spill

AnimasRiverWASHINGTON ,DC – Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area this week, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.

Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”

An EPA cleanup crew on Aug. 5 accidentally triggered a breach in an abandoned gold mine in the southwestern part of Colorado, releasing an estimated three million gallons of toxic, mustard-tinted sludge through a river system that also spans New Mexico and Utah.

The sludge, which flowed down the Animas River and emptied into the San Juan River in New Mexico, contains such contaminants as lead and arsenic from the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton, Colo., one of thousands of abandoned mines across the western U.S.

Top lawmakers from both parties on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee promised to monitor the EPA’s response to the mine breach.

EPA officials said Tuesday that water was flowing out of the mine at a rate of 500 gallons to 700 gallons a minute and was being treated as it emerged.

Ms. McCarthy acknowledged the anger that residents and state leaders are feeling toward the EPA, whose response to the spill has been criticized as too slow. “My message to folks who are angry is we are working as hard as we can and we know it’s a difficult situation,” she said. “We have folks working around the clock.”