Southwest residents fear contaminated drinking water

NEW MEXICO-- Three million gallons of toxic waste are now pushing down two rivers that cross Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Last Wednesday a crew working for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally breached a dam holding back heavy metals used in gold mining. Colorado's governor declared a disaster.

By 7 a.m. on Monday people were already lined up at a Farmington, New Mexico, water testing site. They brought water by the gallon and the jug.

Workers could be heard telling people not to drink or bathe in the water. Residents also brought with them a little anger and frustration.

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"Something should be done, something should be done to those who are responsible," said on resident.

The EPA says the plume of the spill has travelled more than 100 miles through parts of Colorado and New Mexico since Wednesday and is headed for Utah next.

But the source of the spill, a abandoned gold mine, hasn't been plugged yet. And it is spilling out at a rate of 500 gallons per minute, carrying high levels of toxic metals.

Initial EPA estimates say at its peak, the plume carried at least 200 times more arsenic and 3,500 times more lead than is considered safe for drinking.

Ryan Flynn heads up the New Mexico Environment Department, which is running its own testing center, separate from the EPA.

"We are really frustrated with EPA," he said. "First and foremost they didn't tell us about for 24 hours, and that is just unacceptable."

There's no question that they haven't been taking this as seriously as the state has," Flynn said.

James Adkinson depends on water from the river for every day life. He says if he does not have his well water, he will have to take his chances. He says he has no other resources.

It will take 48 hours for residents to get back their test results. In the meantime the EPA continues to test in at least 9 locations along the Animas River.

  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.