DENVER (CBS4) – After the Gold King Mine spilled three million gallons of waste water into the Animas River, experts are concerned about the health of the river as well as the health of residents.
People who live along the Animas River could be ingesting the contaminated water in any number of ways, from drinking it to showering in it, and the fear is how much exposure those people have had.
Scientists fear effects from the yellow plume of waste water could linger well after the river regains its natural color.
“Remember, this is mine waste, it’s heavy. It’s going to sink to the bottom of these streams, it’s going to get into the layer at the bottom,” said Dr. Dan Teitlebaum.
Teitlebaum is a toxicologist who says the elements in the water can pose the risk of illness. The waters were loaded in lead, copper, cadmium, and arsenic, some of which can cause cancers in prolonged exposures.
“They’re a problem because they’re long-term poisons. And low levels consumed over a long period of time create serious problems, particularly arsenic, produce very serious problems,” said Teitlebaum.
Wildlife officials have been quick to show fish that have survived the event, but Teitlebaum says that’s not necessarily an indication that everything is safe.
“If you’re going to eat those brown trout that somebody’s catching in that river, what are the arsenic levels going to be? What are the lead levels going to be? We don’t know,” said Teitlebaum.
He said health concerns in the river are just beginning, even as it appears to look more normal.
When asked if it’s possible for that much pollution in a river to have no effect, Teitlebaum said, “Everything is possible. Is it likely? I think not.”
Many of the people living along the Animas get their water from wells, which could easily have been contaminated, and would be costly to fix.
Full assessments of the damage are still underway, but scientists do say there are reasons for hope, citing spills like this across the state that happened during the heyday of the mining industry.