By Keli James, PR communications communicator

Heavy machinery the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine accidentally released an estimated one million gallons of mining waste into a creek, causing the Animas River north of Silverton, Colorado to turn an opaque orange.

“This is a huge tragedy. It’s hard being on the other side of this. We typically respond to emergencies, we don’t cause them,” David Ostrander, EPA’s director of emergency preparedness for the region, said at a community meeting held in Durango, Colorado. “But this is just an unanticipated situation that didn’t quite come out as planned.”

According to Newsweek, Ostrander stated that the wastewater released contains heavy metals including lead, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum. He also stated that EPA plans to sample private water wells along the Animas River valley to test for contamination, including mercury.

Although, EPA has not released details about what concentration of metals are present in the water, or how much a threat is posed to human and ecosystem health, officials did confirm that the La Plata County sheriff’s office closed public access to the river. “What we received back from the first five samples show that the elevated levels of dissolved metals confirm that the sheriff here took the right measure in putting out the advisory and asking that people not have contact with the river,”  said Sean McGrath, EPA administrator for the region that includes Colorado. “I can assure you we are moving the lab analysis as quickly as I can. The sheriff’s actions were absolutely appropriate.”

Officials advise residents with wells in the Animas and San Juan rivers’ flood plains downstream to have their water tested before using it to cook, drink or bathe.

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