DENVER (AP) - A plume of mustard-colored muck that spilled from a Colorado mine was inching downstream Friday as frustrated state and local officials awaited word from federal agencies on the kind of pollutants staining the water.
DENVER (AP) — A plume of mustard-colored muck that spilled from a Colorado mine was inching downstream Friday as frustrated state and local officials awaited word from federal agencies on the kind of pollutants staining the water.
An estimated 1 million gallons of contaminated wastewater is flowing through the Animas River, and it is acidic and contains heavy metals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. But the agency still was running tests to see exactly what the sludge contained as it creeps toward communities in northern New Mexico.
"We're having a real problem getting EPA to tell us what's in this stuff," said Don Cooper, emergency manager for San Juan County, New Mexico. "We're just kind of shooting in the dark and telling people to stay away from it."
After the polluted water gushed from the shuttered Gold King Mine on Wednesday, the EPA warned people to stay out of the river popular with boaters and anglers and to keep domestic animals from drinking from it.
There have been no reports of drinking-water contamination because water utilities shut down their intake valves ahead of the plume to keep it out of their systems. Farmers also closed the gates on their irrigation ditches to protect their crops, and Colorado officials were testing the effects on fish.
New Mexico officials were angry they were not told of the spill until Thursday, nearly a day after it occurred.
"New Mexico deserves better," state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said.
The EPA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.
Few details have been released about the spill, except that a cleanup crew accidentally breached a containment structure. The crew was trying to enter the mine as part of a project to pump and treat the water, EPA spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool said.
The waste spilled into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River north of the historic mining town of Silverton in Colorado's San Juan Mountains.
The river is a recreational destination and even served as the backdrop for parts of the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Passengers on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad snap thousands of photos of the waterway as the steam-powered trains chug up the narrow canyon beside it.
"It's such a shame, it's such a beautiful river," said Jeff McCoy, who was watching from the riverbank in Durango, where he was on a fishing trip with his son.
"We usually come out here in the beautiful weather to fish, but no fishing today," said McCoy, who lives in Phoenix.
It's expected to reach the northern New Mexico cities of Aztec and Farmington by Friday evening. The heavy metals were making the plume travel more slowly than expected, and it was unclear how far it would reach or when it would dissipate, officials said.
The river had begun to clear up in Silverton, McClain-Vanderpool said. Officials were releasing extra water from at least one reservoir to help dilute the pollution.
The Animas River flows into New Mexico's San Juan River, which is home to some endangered fish and joins the Colorado River in Utah.
Utah's director of water quality, Walt Baker, said residents were advised to avoid the affected rivers.
"Until we know what we're up against and what the effects will be, we're saying, 'Be cautious,'" Baker said.
Associated Press writers Yara Bishara in Phoenix and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.