The Animas River prior to the mine waste spill. The river has since turned orange. (Photo Credit: DamselStock)

The Animas River prior to the mine waste spill. It has since turned orange. (Photo Credit: DamselStock)

DURANGO, Colo.— The Center for Biological Diversity today blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for downplaying the possibility of impacts to fish and wildlife from a million-gallon spill of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek and the Animas River in southwestern Colorado on Wednesday.

Both rivers feed the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah, which contains habitat for several species of federally endangered fish and birds. Many of these, including razorback suckers and Colorado pikeminnow, are already afflicted by exposure to toxic compounds, such as selenium and mercury, associated with mine waste.

In a statement late Wednesday, the EPA pointed to fish populations already decimated by mine pollution to downplay the potential for downstream impacts, claiming that “due to current and longstanding water quality impairment associated with heavy metals there are no fish populations in the Cement Creek watershed and populations in the Animas River have historically been impaired for several miles downstream of Silverton.”

“The fact that fish populations in the upper Animas have already been decimated by mining pollution offers no comfort to concerns about pollution impacts farther downstream,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center.

“Endangered species downstream of this spill are already afflicted by same toxic compounds like mercury and selenium that may be in this waste,” said McKinnon. “These species are hanging by a thread, and every new bit of toxic exposure makes a bad situation worse. EPA’s downplaying of potential impacts is troubling and raises deeper questions about the thoroughness of its mine-reclamation efforts.”

The Center will seek records from the federal agency about this week’s spill under the Freedom of Information Act. It will scrutinize the EPA’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act and other laws in connection with potential impacts to endangered species from mine-reclamation programs and disasters.

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