WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters Tuesday the agency's accidental release of toxic mining wastewater into Colorado's Animas River last week "pains" her.
Speaking in Washington, D.C., McCarthy said the agency is committed to cleaning up the waterway and ensure the health and safety of residents.
On Wednesday, some 3 million gallons of water contaminated with zinc, iron, cooper and other heavy metals broke free of a barrier of unconsolidated debris at the abandoned Gold King Mine, dumping the water into Cement Creek. The creek empties into Animas River, which runs south through Durango, Colo., and into New Mexico.
Mustard yellow water flowed down the river, leaving a thick sediment and prompting authorities to close access to the river until at least Monday, USA Today reported.
"This is a tragic and unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that it is cleaned up," McCarthy said. "The most important thing throughout this is ensuring the health and safety of the residents and visitors near the river. We are committed to helping the people throughout the Four Corner Regions who rely on these rivers for their drinking water, irrigation water and recreation. We know how important it is to them.
"EPA is an agency whose core mission is ensuring a clean environment and protecting public health, so it pains me to see this happening."
EPA on-scene coordinator Hayes Griswold told San Juan County, Colo., officials the breach was caused when a team of EPA officials attempted to pump liquid from the mine for treatment. He said the team underestimated how much pressure was behind debris that plugged the mine's entrance as it attempted to insert a pipe into the top of the mine.
"We were very careful," Griswold said.
New Mexico Go. Susana Martinez called the spill "devastating" in a news release Monday.
"As I've said before, I am very concerned by EPA's lack of communication and inability to provide accurate information. One day, the spill is 1 million gallons. The next, it's 3 million. New Mexicans deserve answers we can rely on," she said.
Martinez declared a state of emergency, freeing up an additional $750,000 in funds to test water and study the potential long-term effects of the spill. The new funds are in addition to $500,000 the New Mexico Environment Department had previously requested and received.