DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4) – CBS4 got the first look inside the source of the toxic spill on the Animas River at the Gold King Mine where millions of gallons of contaminated water were released.

The Environmental Protection Agency admits it’s responsible, and the Department Of Interior announced Tuesday that it’s launching an independent investigation into how it happened.

Dressed in helmets, protective glasses and vests, CBS4’s Rick Sallinger and CBS4 Photojournalist Bill Masure got the first close-up look at what’s been called an environmental catastrophe.

PHOTO GALLERY: Gold King Mine Tour

A task force escort of ATVs ascended 13,000 feet above sea level where the portal of the Gold King Mine is found.

Here, a giant cavity and crushed timbers now remain where a plug once sealed the mine and the water within.

Millions of gallons of toxic water temporarily turned the Animas River into an eerie, orange nightmare on Aug. 5. The EPA has accepted full esponsibility.

Gold King Mine owner Todd Hennis says he never should have let the federal government in four years ago.

When asked if that laid the groundwork for what happened, Hennis responded, “Yes. I basically turned over the property and environmental remediation to the EPA. I had no choice.”

The agency has taken over management of the emergency clean up. Water that continues to flow from the mine is being directed into a series of cleansing ponds.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Workers in protective suits measure the water quality as waste continues to discharge from the mine, through at a much lesser rate.

Hennis pulled out maps that he says show the water could have originated in an adjacent mine, but whose owners deny it.

“All connected, all showing a mass of workings. Like spider webs,” Hennis said.

He warns there is much more water buried in these abandoned mines.

“It may not look like it as we stand here, but we are standing on a time bomb,” he said.

It’s something he fears may explode sooner rather than later.

That and other worries of residents will be addressed at a public meeting Thursday in Durango.


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