EPA Chief Gina McCarthy 'Deeply Sorry' for Colorado Mine Spill

EPA pushes back against criticism for damage and agency's pace of cleanup.

— -- The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, responded today to criticism that her agency moved too slowly in alerting the public about the 3 million gallons of mine waste that has contaminated a Colorado river, saying the lag time is mainly due to the cautious nature of the government’s efforts.

McCarthy said she is “deeply sorry” and it “pains me to no end” to see the orange-colored toxic stream unleashed in the West. Calling the spill a “tragic and unfortunate accident,” she took full responsibility for the waste oozing from an abandoned mine into the Animas River.

“We are going to move as quickly as we can,” she told reporters following a speech in Washington, D.C., and said that her agency is working around the clock with a team of scientists and researchers to contain the spill and prevent the mine waste from moving further downstream.

“It does take time to review and analyze data,” McCarthy said. “As far as I know, we have been thankful that there is no reported cases of anyone’s health being compromised.”

The important thing, she said, “is ensuring the health and safety of the residents” and she emphasized the EPA is committed to helping residents in the region. In response to the “unfortunate accident,” McCarthy said the EPA has developed and “deployed the full depth and breadth of the agency, as well as partners on the ground.”

Additionally, the EPA is seeing a “downward trajectory” of the contamination levels and it has put together a unified command center in Durango, and a post in Washington, D.C., to unify state and federal workers responding to the spill.

“We’re trying to be as cautious as we can and prudent,” McCarthy said. “EPA’s core mission is to ensure a clean environment and to protect public health, so it pains me to no end to see this is happening.”

The EPA is working to protect the public water supply and is bringing in private water as it is needed, including bottled water deliveries. McCarthy said the Animas River is unlikely to re-open immediately for recreational use, and is mostly off-limits for kayakers and those that often access the waterway.

“We are not going to take risks, we know there is responsibility here,” McCarthy said. “We’re working tirelessly to respond, and we’ve committed to a full review of exactly what happened, to ensure that it can never happen again."