Fact Check

Did the EPA Cause the Animas River Spill?

The Animas River changed color and was closed to human access after a wastewater leak.

Published Aug 10, 2015

DURANGO, CO - AUGUST 7: Mack Goshorn, from Loveland, looks out over the city of Durango on August 6, 2015 along Animas River. Goshorn, a resident of Durango from 1941 to 1955, came back to the city for a funeral of a high school friend. Over a million gallons of mine wastewater has made it's way into the Animas River closing the river and put the city of Durango on alert. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images) (Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Image Via Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images
A spill by the Environmental Protection Agency rendered the normally pristine blue Animas River a terrifying mustard yellow.

On 5 August 2015, a wastewater leak out of an old mining site near Silverton, Colorado, affected the Animas River. According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was investigating reports of a leak at the mine when a plug blew and flooded a nearby tributary:

The Environmental Protection Agency caused the spill on Wednesday while it was investigating a leak at the Gold King Mine. The wastewater flowed into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River in southwestern Colorado, and snaked through the river toward New Mexico.

E.P.A. officials confirmed the leak contained heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, but said it was too early to know whether there was a health risk to humans or animals. The river was closed for recreational and other uses, but officials said water sources should be safe.

“The orange color is alarming to people, but that is not an indication in any way of a health risk,” said Joan Card, an official with Region 8 of the E.P.A. Testing is ongoing, she said.

Reaction on social media featured images of the Animas River in the days after the incident:

On 6 August, Dave Ostrander, the EPA's regional director of emergency preparedness assessment and response, said:

"We are very sorry for what happened. This is a huge tragedy. It's hard being on the other side of this. Typically we respond to emergencies; we don't cause them. ... It's something we sincerely regret."

The Animas River remained closed at the time to human access pending further tests.


Victor, Daniel. "Wastewater Spill in Colorado Turns a River Yellow."   The New York Times. 7 August 2015.

Todesco, Danielle. "Animas River closed to public after EPA dumps 1M gallons of waste."   KOB Eyewitness News 4.  6 August 2015.

Finley, Bruce. "Regional EPA director calls wastewater spill in Animas River ‘tragic’."   The Denver Post.  7 August 2015.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.