U.S. EPA proposing first-ever airplane emissions standards

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday announced it was proposing the first U.S. emissions standards for commercial aircraft.

In 2016, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on global airplane emissions standards aimed at makers of small and large planes, including Airbus SE and Boeing Co, which both backed the standards.

The EPA-proposed regulation seeks to align the United States with the ICAO standards, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “We are implementing the ICAO recommendations, ICAO standards,” Wheeler told reporters.

The proposal would apply to new type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting in 2028. They would not apply to airplanes currently in use.

Aircraft account for 12% of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total such U.S. emissions. They are the largest source of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions not subject to standards.

Wheeler said it was critical the U.S. adopt the standards, because countries could ban U.S.-assembled airplanes if they do not meet ICAO standards.

EPA is expected to finalize the rules next spring. The Federal Aviation Administration will then issue separate rules to enforce the standards.

Some environmentalists argue the ICAO rules and EPA did not go far enough.

Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Wednesday, “this toothless proposal does nothing to meaningfully address the serious problem of airplanes’ planet-warming pollution.” She noted EPA was not estimating any emissions reductions as a result of the proposal.

Wheeler said the proposal is based on “where the technology is today … You can’t really set the standard that can’t be met.”

Boeing said the EPA proposal “is a major step forward for protecting the environment and supporting sustainable growth of commercial aviation and the United States economy.”

Airlines for America, a trade group, said the rules will help U.S. airlines “achieve carbon neutral growth in the near term and to cut net carbon emissions in half in 2050 relative to 2005 levels.”

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA in 2016 declared aircraft emissions posed a public health danger. In January, environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue EPA for failing to regulate aircraft emissions.

(Reporting by David Shepardson. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Zieminski)

Exclusive: Lonza expects EPA approval coming ‘very soon’ to make COVID-killing claims for disinfectants on surfaces

By Siddharth Cavale and Richa Naidu

(Reuters) – Lonza Group AG is in the “last step” of discussions with U.S. regulators for approval to claim that its formulation is effective in killing the novel Coronavirus on surfaces, an executive at the pharmaceutical and chemical giant told Reuters.

Earlier this week, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc became the first company to win the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval to market two of its Lysol disinfectant sprays as household COVID-19 killers.

Reuters previously reported that Reckitt had procured a strain of the virus from an independent lab, for testing. The EPA’s approval allows Reckitt to claim that Lysol can kill the novel coronavirus, or the SARS-CoV-2, on surfaces.

Ernesto Lippert, Lonza’s vice president of strategic development and advocacy, told Reuters Thursday that it, too, obtained a strain of SARS-CoV-2 and had tested a range of its formulations in approved EPA labs. He said data shows that the products could indeed kill SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.

“We are probably be going to be the second one after Reckitt Benckiser to have a range of our products with the actual claim against SARS-CoV-2,” Lippert said, adding that Lonza is in the “last step” of the process and that “EPA’s approval is going to be very soon.”

Reuters could not independently verify Lonza’s discussions with the EPA or the timing on a possible decision by the agency.

An EPA spokesperson said on Friday Lonza was one of several companies to have submitted laboratory data against SARS-CoV-2, but declined to elaborate on the approval timeline.

Lonza is one of a few big chemical companies, along with U.S.-based Stepan Co and Pilot Chemicals, which own chemical formulations that go into many household products. The formulations typically have been pre-tested and EPA- approved for use against a variety of pathogens. Lonza’s current clients include 3M and the maker of Pine Glo kitchen and bathroom cleaner.

The EPA in March issued new guidelines, allowing hundreds of smaller companies to quickly gain regulatory approval without subjecting their products to time-consuming testing.

Applicants with data showing their products are effective against “non-enveloped” viruses won expedited approval to market their products as potentially effective against SARS-CoV-2. The EPA considers “non-enveloped” viruses to be harder-to-kill than even SARS-CoV-2, which is an “enveloped” virus.

That easing of the rules coupled with the licensing means companies can go through an accelerated EPA vetting process than the previous time frame of six months to one year for approval.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement late March that the move would allow the EPA to better protect public health by assuring the availability of surface disinfectants to use against the novel coronavirus.

“Supplemental registration is by far the easiest and quickest mechanism to get a product into the market,” said regulatory consultant Kevin Kutcel. “You just send a notification to the EPA and you can immediately get into the marketplace very, very quickly.”

Lonza’s Lippert said the company had a more than 110% spike in supplemental registrations of its formulations in the second quarter compared to the first quarter of the year. It also is currently reviewing 62 applications to license its formulas, most of which already are EPA-approved as effective against “non-enveloped” viruses.

“Normally regulators are pretty dogmatic about these things – they insist on all the testing and are pretty rigid,” said Michael Reynen, the former research head of Procter & Gamble’s surface care business in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “But now the situation out there is pretty desperate.”

Consumer demand for cleaning and disinfecting products continues to soar.

“The Pope couldn’t have bought a bottle of Lysol last week if he wanted to, and now because of the EPA’s approval [of Lysol] it’ll be even harder,” said Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences at consumer advocacy group American Council of Science and Health (ACSH).

Over the past five months, the EPA has approved nearly 750 products that license formulations as potentially effective against COVID, according to a list compiled by the American Chemistry Council trade group.

In late February, the list had only about 100 products, almost all from Lysol and Clorox. By June, the ACC list was comprised mostly of other brands licensing formulations from primary registrants Lonza, Pilot and Stepan, according to a Reuters analysis.

Stepan and Pilot were not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru and Richa Naidu in Chicago; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Edward Tobin)

Monsanto, BASF weed killers strain U.S. states with crop damage complaints

Monsanto's research farm is pictured near Carman, Manitoba, Canada on August 3, 2017.

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farmers have overwhelmed state governments with thousands of complaints about crop damage linked to new versions of weed killers, threatening future sales by manufacturers Monsanto Co and BASF.

Monsanto is banking on weed killers using a chemical known as dicamba – and seeds engineered to resist it – to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter.

The United States has faced a weed-killer crisis this year caused by the new formulations of dicamba-based herbicides, which farmers and weed experts say have harmed crops because they evaporate and drift away from where they are applied.

Monsanto and BASF say the herbicides are safe when properly applied. They need to convince regulators after the flood of complaints to state agriculture departments.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year approved use of the weed killers on dicamba-resistant crops during the summer growing season. Previously, farmers used dicamba to kill weeds before they planted seeds, and not while the crops were growing.

However, the EPA approved such use only until Nov. 9, 2018, because “extraordinary precautions” are needed to prevent dicamba products from tainting vulnerable crops, a spokesman told Reuters in a statement last week. The agency wanted to be able to step in if there were problems, he said.

Next year, the EPA will determine whether to extend its approval by reviewing damage complaints and consulting with state and industry experts. States are separately considering new restrictions on usage for 2018.

Major soybean-growing states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, each received roughly four years’ worth of complaints about possible pesticide damage to crops this year due to dicamba use, state regulators said.

Now agriculture officials face long backlogs of cases to investigate, which are driving up costs for lab tests and overtime. Several states had to reassign employees to handle the load.

“We don’t have the staff to be able to handle 400 investigations in a year plus do all the other required work,” said Paul Bailey, director of the Plant Industries division of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

In Missouri, farmers filed about 310 complaints over suspected dicamba damage, on top of the roughly 80 complaints about pesticides the state receives in a typical year, he said.

Nationwide, states launched 2,708 investigations into dicamba-related plant injury by Oct. 15, according to data compiled by the University of Missouri.

States investigate such complaints to determine whether applicators followed the rules for using chemicals. Those found to have violated regulations can be fined.

Monsanto has said that U.S. farmers spraying this past summer failed to follow detailed instructions of up to 4,550 words printed on labels.

The companies will change usage instructions in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the past summer’s problems.

“With significant adoption and a lot of interest in this new technology, we recognize that many states have received a number of reports of potential off-target application of dicamba in 2017,” Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord said last month.

 

PHOTOGRAPHING DAMAGED SOYBEANS

State investigators try to visit fields within days after farmers report possible damage to take photos before signs of injury, such as cupped leaves on soybean plants hit by dicamba, disappear. They question farmers and the people who applied the herbicide, and often gather samples from plants to test.

In Arkansas, farmers filed about 985 complaints associated with dicamba, the most of any state. Investigators are probing about 1,200 total complaints involving pesticide use, which includes weed killers, said Terry Walker, director of the Arkansas State Plant Board.

Arkansas delayed inspections of animal feed and allowed overtime to handle the dicamba cases, which is not normal practice, Walker said. He was unable to provide a cost estimate for dealing with the complaints.

Among the farmers who reported damage was Reed Storey, who said he wanted to ensure state officials knew dicamba caused damage even when users follow the instructions.

“I’m calling strictly to let y’all know that we have an issue with this product,” Storey, who spoke last month, said he told Arkansas regulators.

Illinois received about 421 total pesticide complaints, the most since at least 1989, said Warren Goetsch, acting chief of the Bureau of Environmental Programs at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. That includes at least 245 complaints associated with dicamba, which could take until next year to finish investigating, he said.

“It’s frustrating I think for us that we’re as behind as we are,” Goetsch said.

 

MONSANTO’S BIG BET

Monsanto is betting on dicamba-tolerant soybeans to replace those that withstand glyphosate, an herbicide used for decades but which is becoming less effective as weeds develop resistance. The company aims for its dicamba-resistant seeds to account for half the U.S. soybeans planted by 2019.

Monsanto, which is in the process of being acquired by Bayer AG  for $63.5 billion, said it plans to open a call center to help customers use dicamba next year and is talking with states about the product.

Monsanto’s net sales increased $1.1 billion, or 8 percent, in fiscal year 2017 due partly to increased sales of its dicamba-resistant soybean seeds.

The company and BASF already face several lawsuits from farmers alleging damage to plants from dicamba used by neighbors.

 

ANALYZING PLANT SAMPLES

The EPA provides grants to states that help fund investigations into pesticide damage and this year offered 35 states extra assistance analyzing plant samples for dicamba, according to the agency.

Minnesota and Illinois turned to the EPA for help, with the latter saying the federal agency has better equipment to detect low levels of dicamba.

In Iowa, the state’s laboratory bureau received 515 samples to test this year, up 35 percent, as dicamba use helped drive up the total number of pesticide complaints to 270 from a typical range of 70 to 120, according to the state. Each test costs up to $9.

“We are really anxious to flip the page and look ahead to 2018 and try to figure out the things that can be done to improve the situation,” said Mike Naig, deputy secretary of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

 

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Matthew Lewis)

 

US Coast Guard, EPA cleaning up a dozen Texas chemical spills after Harvey

Vehicles sit amid leaked fuel mixed in with flood waters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in the parking lot of Motiva Enterprises LLC in Port Arthur, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017.

By Emily Flitter

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are working with Texas state regulators to clean up oil and chemicals spilled from a dozen industrial facilities after flooding from Hurricane Harvey, authorities said.

The spills came from oil refineries, fuel terminals and other businesses, but EPA spokeswoman Terri White said it was not possible to provide an estimate for the amounts spilled.

“Initial reports were based on observation,” White said. “Some spills were already being cleaned up by the time EPA or other officials arrived to assess them and others had already migrated offsite.”

Refineries owned by Valero Energy Corp in Houston, Motiva Inc in Port Arthur, and Exxon Mobile Corp in Baytown, were among the facilities that had reported spills, according to White. Representatives for those companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Officials also reported spills at Kinder Morgan Inc’s Pasadena fuel storage terminal and at an oil terminal in Texas City owned by NuStar Energy LP.

Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lexey Long said on Monday the company reported a spill of 500 barrels of gasoline on Aug. 27. Workers covered the spill with a foam blanket and set up a barrier to keep the public away.

“The spill has been fully remediated,” she said.

NuStar representatives had no immediate comment.

Two wastewater treatment plants – Integrity Golden Triangle Marine Services of Port Arthur and San Jacinto River and Rail in Beaumont – also appeared on the list of spill response locations that EPA provided to Reuters.

San Jacinto River and Rail said it spilled a “foamy emulsion” when floodwaters overtopped the berms around its facility.

“Some is on our property and some is on adjacent property which has already been cleaned up,” said spokesman Dennis Winkler. “We do not expect a long-term environmental impact. We do not expect there will be any air impact or health impacts.”

Representatives from Integrity Golden Triangle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The liquid spills come in addition to more than a million pounds of toxic emissions above legal limits that spewed from industrial facilities following Harvey, according to reports from companies filed with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality.

The EPA and other authorities had warned people affected by the flood that waters could contain bacteria and toxic chemicals, but have said little yet about the specific origins or quantities of substances.

Residents in Baytown, where houses sit along the Houston Ship Channel next to several major refineries and chemical plants, said they were concerned about the impact of the spills and releases on health.

“I’m against the sword and the wall, what can I do?” said Carlos Caban, one of the residents, whose son had taken pictures of contaminated-looking floodwaters in nearby refinery site.

Several residents reported seeing a metallic sheen on water flowing near the plants during the heaviest flooding, posting videos to YouTube.

 

(Reporting By Emily Flitter; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Jonathan Oatis)

 

U.S. government scientists go ‘rogue’ in defiance of Trump

national park in south dakota

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Employees from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have established a network of unofficial “rogue” Twitter feeds in defiance of what they see as attempts by President Donald Trump to muzzle federal climate change research and other science.

Seizing on Trump’s favorite mode of discourse, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and other bureaus have privately launched Twitter accounts – borrowing names and logos of their agencies – to protest restrictions they view as censorship and provide unfettered platforms for information the new administration has curtailed.

“Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS,” one anonymous National Park Service employee posted on the newly opened Twitter account @AltNatParkService. “You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”

The @RogueNASA account displayed an introductory disclaimer describing it as “The unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account.” It beckoned readers to follow its feed “for science and climate news and facts. REAL NEWS, REAL FACTS.”

The swift proliferation of such tweets by government rank-and-file followed internal directives several agencies involved in environmental issues have received since Trump’s inauguration requiring them to curb their dissemination of information to the public.

Last week, Interior Department staff were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee re-tweeted posts about relatively low attendance at Trump’s swearing-in, and about how material on climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the official White House website.

Employees at the EPA and the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services have since confirmed seeing notices from the new administration either instructing them to remove web pages or limit how they communicate to the public, including through social media.

The restrictions have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change skeptic, is out to squelch federally backed research showing that emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are contributing to global warming.

The resistance movement gained steam on Tuesday when a series of climate change-related tweets were posted to the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, administered under the Interior Department, but were soon deleted.

A Park Service official later said those tweets came from a former employee no longer authorized to use the official account and that the agency was being encouraged to use Twitter to post public safety and park information only, and to avoid national policy issues.

Within hours, unofficial “resistance” or “rogue” Twitter accounts began sprouting up, emblazoned with the government logos of the agencies where they worked, the list growing to at least 14 such sites by Wednesday afternoon.

An account dubbed @ungaggedEPA invited followers to visit its feeds of “ungagged news, links, tips and conversation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to tell you,” adding that it was “Not directly affiliated with @EPA.”

U.S. environmental employees were soon joined by similar “alternative” Twitter accounts originating from various science and health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Weather Service. Many of their messages carried Twitter hashtags #resist or #resistance.

An unofficial Badlands National Park account called @BadHombreNPS also emerged (a reference to one of Trump’s more memorable campaign remarks about Mexican immigrants) to post material that had been scrubbed from the official site earlier.

Because the Twitter feeds were set up and posted to anonymously as private accounts, they are beyond the control of the government.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

EPA says filtered Flint, Michigan drinking water safe to drink

Flint Michigan Water Tower

DETROIT (Reuters) – Federal officials said on Thursday it is safe for anyone to drink properly filtered water in Flint, Michigan, where a public health crisis erupted after residents were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement that the most recent testing at nearly 50 locations in the city showed lead levels far below the levels considered dangerous.

But the city’s mayor said some homes in Flint cannot be fitted with filters, so bottled water is still needed.

Flint, with a population of about 100,000, was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River to save money. The city switched back in October.

The river water was more corrosive than the Detroit system’s and caused more lead to leach from aging pipes. Lead can be toxic, and children are especially vulnerable. The crisis has prompted lawsuits by parents who say their children have shown dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

The EPA, which worked in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the testing, said properly filtered water is safe even for pregnant and nursing women, and children, groups more susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning.

“Residents can be confident that they can use filtered water and protect their developing fetus or young child from lead,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Dr. Nicole Lurie said in a statement. Lurie has led federal support efforts for the Flint crisis.

The EPA said the filters distributed by the state of Michigan effectively remove lead or reduce it to levels well below the level of 15 parts per billion at which federal officials say action is needed. In the testing, nearly all filtered water tested below 1 part per billion. In January, water samples tested above 150 parts per billion.

The state began offering free water filters in Flint in January.

“This good news shows the progress we are making with overall water quality improving in Flint,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement.

Snyder has been criticized for the state’s poor handling of the crisis.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver noted that some homes have faucets where the filters do not fit. “This is not the ultimate solution,” she said in a statement. “We still need new infrastructure, replacing the lead-tainted pipes in the city remains my top priority.”

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by David Gregorio)

U.S. Congress criticizes EPA, Michigan over Flint water crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A congressional panel on Tuesday criticized the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan officials for failing to do more to sound the alarm about high levels of lead in the city of Flint’s drinking water.

“What happened in Flint can never happen again. It is almost unbelievable how many bad decisions were made,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“Government at every level – local, state and federal – made poor decisions.”

Flint, a predominantly African-American city of 100,000 about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April 2014 to cut costs. The river’s corrosive water leached lead from city pipes, creating a public health threat marked by high lead levels in blood samples taken from children.

Lead is a toxic agent that can damage the nervous system.

The crisis has drawn national attention and led to calls for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to resign. It has also led to several lawsuits in state and federal courts, and federal and state investigations.

The water supply was switched back to the Detroit system last October.

At Tuesday’s hearing, a former regional EPA head, Susan Hedman, who resigned in February, was criticized by members of the committee for not acting sooner to use her powers as the regulator to better protect Flint residents. She defended herself, however.

“I don’t think anyone at the EPA did anything wrong, but I do believe we could have done more,” Hedman said. “I did not sit silent.”

Representative Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican, blasted Hedman as well. “I’m sorry, there’s a special place in hell for actions like this,” he said of the former EPA official’s tenure before the Flint crisis mushroomed into a national story.

Darnell Earley, a former state-appointed emergency manager in Flint, also was criticized for failing to ask enough questions about the safety protocols in place at the time of the city’s water-source switch.

Governor Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy are scheduled to testify before the same panel on Thursday.

Internal EPA memos and emails Chaffetz released about the crisis raised questions about the agency’s actions and the state’s incompetence.

“Lead lines + no treatment = high lead in water = lead poisoned children,” Miguel Del Toral, an EPA official critical of the agency, wrote in a Sept. 22, 2015, email to other agency officials. “At every stage of this process, it seems we spend more time trying to maintain state/local relationships than we do trying to protect the children.”

In July 2015, EPA official Jennifer Crooks said in a summary of an agency meeting on Flint that “it doesn’t make sense to discuss with the state what happened in the past … as the state sees the lead levels climbing, I don’t see the benefit in rubbing their nose in the fact that we’re right and they’re wrong.”

Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards, a water engineer who first raised the issue of Flint’s lead contamination, was critical of Hedman’s testimony.

“I can’t help but comment on the qualities that seem to be valued in administrators at the EPA: willful blindness, in this case to the pain and suffering of Flint residents; unremorseful for their role in causing this man-made disaster; and completely unrepentant,” he told the committee on Tuesday.

He said the EPA has never apologized for what happened in Flint. “I guess being a government agency means you never have to say you’re sorry,” Edwards said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Matthew Lewis)

Environmental Protection Agency Admits Toxic Sludge Will Contaminate Water into Mexico

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is admitting the toxic sludge released into the Animas River by an EPA work crew is going to pollute rivers all the way into Mexico.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted waters will be polluted into Utah, New Mexico, the Navajo Nation reservation and into Mexico.  McCarthy said at a press conference they would use the “full breadth of the agency” to try and clean up their spill.

“We’re working around the clock,” McCarthy said. “It pains me to no end to see this happening.”

While they admitted they are the source of the leak, EPA official say they still don’t know exactly what happened to cause the toxic waste to reach the river.

“We’ve launched an independent investigation to see what happened, and we’ll be taking steps to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Shaun McGrath, the EPA administrator in charge of the region, told reporters on Monday.

Officials said the Animas River and the San Jan River into which the Animas feeds will be closed to the public at least until August 17th because of the toxic metals in the water.   Durango, Colorado and the New Mexico cities of Aztec and Farmington have been forced to shut off their river intakes for resident water supplies.

The EPA workers also admitted that many of the heavy metals will sink into the sediment of the rivers and could be stirred up when a major storm hits the region causing flooding or increased water flow.

Claims are now being made against the EPA by local residents who have suffered hardship because of the spill.  Under federal law, the EPA is financially responsible for damaged caused by any mistakes made in clean up of toxic sites.

EPA Releases 3 Million Gallons of Toxic Sludge into Southern Colorado River

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is coming under fire after first releasing a toxic plume of contaminated mine water into the Animas River and then misleading the public about the size of the spill.

The EPA initially told the public last week the amount of toxic waste, which had turned the Animas River orange, was one million gallons.   The EPA admitted Sunday the spill was actually closer to three million gallons.

On Sunday, Shaun McGrath of the EPA told reporters in a teleconference that the mine is still spilling 500 gallons of toxic water a minute but that its being contained in four lakes near the site of the spill where it can be treated by EPA officials.

EPA tests showed the level of arsenic in the river topped out at 300 times the normal level and lead reached 3,500 times the normal level.  

“Yes, those numbers are high and they seem scary,” Deborah McKean, chief of the EPA Region 8 Toxicology and Human Health and Risk Assessment, told reporters. “But it’s not just a matter of toxicity of the chemicals, it’s a matter of exposure.

Residents who have water wells near the river have been told not to use their water until they can have it tested for the toxic chemicals.  The toxic sludge has been moving downriver into parts of the Navajo Nation indian reservation and into northwest New Mexico.

The EPA has been criticized by state officials in Colorado and New Mexico for failing to report the incident to them.  New Mexicos Governor, Susana Martinez, said that the New Mexico government only learned of the spill when local indian nation officials reported something was wrong with the river.

“It’s completely irresponsible for the EPA not to have informed New Mexico immediately,” she said after flying over the affected rivers.