Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

April 5, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

“It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: New spill contained onsite

March 11, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

For the second time in five months, Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill officials have discovered a leak of contaminated water, but both spills reportedly were contained on-site. On Monday, Cotter personnel reported to Colorado Department of Public Health officials a release of greater than 500 gallons of water from the barrier system pump-back pipeline. The water spilled was contaminated groundwater recovered by the barrier system and being pumped back to the facility.

The spill was discovered at 8 a.m. Monday and mill personnel were last on-site at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday. The spill did not result in contaminated materials leaving the Cotter property. More information will be provided as the investigation continues, according to Deb Shaw, health department program assistant. A similar spill occurred in November when between 4,000 and 9,000 gallons of contaminated water seeped from the same pipeline.

Contaminated water usually is pumped, along with groundwater, to an on-site evaporation pond to prevent further contamination in Lincoln Park, which has been a part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1988. The now-defunct mill is in the process of decommissioning and has not been used to process uranium since 2006.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

More details have emerged in connection with a Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill leak of contaminated water which occurred over the weekend south of town. State health officials reported Tuesday that about 20,000 gallons of the contaminated water leaked from the pump-back system pipeline.

“Analytical results show that the water contained 2,840 micrograms per liter of uranium and 3,740 micrograms per liter of molybdenum. For comparison, the groundwater standard in Colorado for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter and for molybdenum is 100 micrograms per liter,” said Deb Shaw, program assistant for the state health department.

At those concentrations of contamination the spill is not reportable to the National Response Center because the quantity is below 10.3 million gallons, Shaw said.

The contamination did not seep off of Cotter property.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: 9,000 gallon spill contained on mill property

November 8, 2013
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill officials on Tuesday discovered contaminated water escaped a pump-back system at the mill site but the spill has been contained to the mill property. According to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department, the release of contaminated water was limited to between 4,000 and 9,000 gallons. The leak occurred at the junction of two pipe sections near the Soil Conservation Service pump back site, which is designed to prevent contaminated surface water from seeping into the neighboring Lincoln Park neighborhood.

“The soil in the area of the release is saturated. It will be allowed to dry so the pipe can be excavated and repaired,” Smith said.

Water samples were analyzed and based on concentration levels present, the maximum estimated release of uranium is limited to 1.1 ounces and the estimated molybdenum release is 2.6 ounces.

Contaminated water usually is pumped, along with groundwater, to an onsite evaporation pond to prevent further contamination in Lincoln Park, which has been a part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1988. The now-defunct mill is in the process of decommissioning and has not been used to process uranium since 2006.

From the Colorado Independent (Shelby Kinney-Lang):

Cotter Corporation informed the health department of the leaking pipes on Tuesday in a “verbal report” delivered over the phone. No health department personnel have inspected the spill site, as yet, and no formal report has yet been filed. Cotter said it will let the contaminated ground dry before excavating and repairing the pipe…

“We’ve got a company looking to walk away from a problem without actually cleaning it up,” said Travis E. Stills, an energy and conservation lawyer who has been working with community groups in Cañon City since the mid-2000s. Stills represents Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste on several ongoing state open records suits that seek information that passed between Cotter, the state health department and the Environmental Protection Agency concerning the uranium mill and the Lincoln Park Superfund Site, but which health department withheld from public review.

Uranium is extraordinarily toxic. The health department reports that if the pipe did in fact leak 9,000 gallons, the concentration in the water of uranium would be 834 micrograms per liter and the concentration of molybdenum, also a toxic chemical, would be 2,018 micrograms per liter. For perspective, the EPA places the health safety level of uranium at 30 micrograms per liter…

“They got a hole in the pipe and it leaked back into the ground,” he said.

Warren Smith, community involvement manager in the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the department, insisted there was no danger to public health.

“There is no public health risk here, because there is no exposure to the public,” Smith said. “Health risk depends on two factors: the release and exposure. If there’s no receptor to be exposed to it, where’s the risk?”

Smith said that the health department performs regular inspections of the Cotter site. The most recent was a September inspection. Because the pipe was buried, Smith said it would be a stretch to “characterize it as an [inspection] oversight.”

Smith said it would be a serious lapse if Cotter had failed to report the spill. Inspections don’t occur often enough for the state to have happened upon the spill any time soon.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund cleanup: Cotter wants to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring

October 23, 2013
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being sought on a Cotter Corp. uranium mill proposal seeking to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring on 11 new wells. The state health department has preliminarily approved the request and will take public input before making a final decision. Cotter Corp. Mill Manager John Hamrick indicated more than a year’s worth of sampling has been amassed on 11 new wells, which were dug in late 2011 to help establish the extent of groundwater contamination.

“Once we’ve established 12 months of measurements, we generally move to quarterly sampling as we do with all the other wells,” Hamrick explained.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been an EPA Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils. Groundwater is not used by residents in the contaminated area of Lincoln Park as they all have been connected to the city water supply.

Hamrick said the average uranium value for each of the new monitoring wells is below the Colorado Groundwater Quality Standard. Only three wells have exceeded the standard for uranium — one six times, another twice and the third just once.

The average molybdenum concentration for most of the new wells also was below the state standard and only three wells have exceeded that standard out of 115 samples.

The state health department reviewed the request as did the Cotter Community Advisory Group. Regulators feel, “Significant baseline data” has been collected to allow for quarterly monitoring instead of monthly, said Jennifer Opila, unit leader for the state heath department’s radioactive materials division.

Public comment will be accepted Monday through Sept. 13. Comments can be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager, via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or by calling 303-692-3373.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: Cleanup awaiting state go ahead

August 19, 2013

cottergroundwatercontaminationlocation.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State health officials have preliminarily ordered Cotter Corp. Mill officials not to do any cleanup work pending future decommissioning and reclamation guidelines. Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill Manager John Hamrick had requested permission to excavate the ore pad area after uranium ore was removed and shipped to the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah.

The state health department’s Jennifer Opila, unit leader, said although an earlier work pause has been lifted, Cotter will not be authorized to proceed with, “New decommissioning or reclamation activities.” She said the decision to deny the request was made after health officials and the Community Advisory Group discussed the issue. The public is invited to comment on the state’s preliminary decision.

Comment will be accepted Monday through Sept. 20. The public also can comment during the same time frame on completion reports for Lincoln Park water wells.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: Public comments sought on proposal to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring

August 9, 2013

cottergroundwatercontaminationlocation.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being sought on a Cotter Corp. uranium mill proposal seeking to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring on 11 new wells. The state health department has preliminarily approved the request and will take public input before making a final decision. Cotter Corp. Mill Manager John Hamrick indicated more than a year’s worth of sampling has been amassed on 11 new wells, which were dug in late 2011 to help establish the extent of groundwater contamination.

“Once we’ve established 12 months of measurements, we generally move to quarterly sampling as we do with all the other wells,” Hamrick explained.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been an EPA Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils. Groundwater is not used by residents in the contaminated area of Lincoln Park as they all have been connected to the city water supply.

Hamrick said the average uranium value for each of the new monitoring wells is below the Colorado Groundwater Quality Standard. Only three wells have exceeded the standard for uranium — one six times, another twice and the third just once. The average molybdenum concentration for most of the new wells also was below the state standard and only three wells have exceeded that standard out of 115 samples.

The state health department reviewed the request as did the Cotter Community Advisory Group. Regulators feel, “Significant baseline data” has been collected to allow for quarterly monitoring instead of monthly, said Jennifer Opila, unit leader for the state heath department’s radioactive materials division.

Public comment will be accepted Monday through Sept. 13. Comments can be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager, via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or by calling 303-692-3373.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


‘…the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground’ — The Durango Herald

August 5, 2013

bonitamineacidminedrainageanimasriverstakeholdersgroup.jpg

Here’s Part I of The Durango Herald’s series on cleaning up Cement Creek written by (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister). Click here for the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

At Red and Bonita Mine, the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground. There, especially after heavy rains, toxic amounts of metal gush out from within the mountain and bleed into Cement Creek. Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, said Cement Creek is one of the largest untreated mine drainages in the state of Colorado…

Like all great earthly calamities, the environmental problem posed by Cement Creek – daunting, scientific and indifferent to protest – becomes human – legal, social, financial and technological – as soon as the focus moves to solutions. In this three-day series, The Durango Herald explores what has been done about this environmental hazard, possible ways forward, and what cleaning up Cement Creek might mean to Silverton, town motto: “The mining town that never quit.”[...]

For much of the 1990s, scientists took heart that the metals flowing into the Animas from Cement Creek were diluted by the time the water reached Bakers Bridge, a swimming hole for daredevils about 15 miles upriver of Durango. But between 2005 and 2010, 3 out of 4 of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas River beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the USGS, both the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And starting in 2006, the level of pollution has overwhelmed even the old bellwether at Bakers Bridge: USGS scientists now find the water that flows under Bakers Bridge carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

Bill Simon, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said cleaning up the environmental damage wrought by mining remains the unfinished business of previous centuries. “Getting anyone to pay is notoriously difficult,” he said. He noted that without robust regulation, it was common practice from the 1870s on for mining companies to take what they could and then go broke, abscond or incestuously merge with other mining entities, leaving the future to foot the bill…

What keeps them working together? Simon, a longtime coordinator of the stakeholders group, said, “There is this overwhelming feeling: Let’s spend the money on the ground rather than in litigation.”[...]

For a while, it appeared that the stakeholders’ collaborative effort to clean up Cement Creek was working: After Sunnyside Gold Corp. stoppered American Tunnel with the first of three massive concrete bulkheads in 1996, declining water flow from the site meant less metal pollution in Cement Creek. But Butler said that in 2004, the bulkheads stopped functioning like a cork in a wine bottle. Instead, they started working like a plug in a bathtub: Water, prevented from exiting the mountain through American Tunnel, rose up within the mountain until it reached other drainage points, namely, the Red and Bonita, Gold King and Mogul mines. Since then, Butler said, data shows that most metal concentrations in Cement Creek have “easily doubled” their pre-bulkhead amounts. He said as a result, the recent environmental damage done to the Animas has far outpaced gains made in other stakeholders group cleanup efforts, like the remediation of Mineral Creek, another Animas River tributary…

Though federal budget cuts have seriously diminished the EPA and gutted its Superfund monies, the EPA says the mine drainage in Silverton has gotten so bad it may yet pursue a Superfund listing. And without federal intervention, even stalwarts of the Animas River Stakeholders Group say it’s not clear there will ever be enough money to clean up Cement Creek.

Here’s Part II. Here’s an excerpt:

According to Bill Simon, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, an organization that has tried since 1994 to ensure the Animas River’s water quality, the science behind the cleanup is comparatively simple: A limestone water-treatment plant would do the trick. The catch with this technology, he said, is that it’s expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it would cost between $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. was the last mining company to operate in Silverton. Bought in 2003 by Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate that generated billions in revenue last year, Sunnyside denies all liability for cleaning up Cement Creek. Sunnyside officials argue the state released it from liability in an agreement that partly depended on its building the American Tunnel bulkheads. These are the same bulkheads that, according to government scientists, are causing unprecedented amounts of metal to leak from mines higher up the mountain and flow into Cement Creek. The toxic cargo in turn flows into the Animas River.

Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in Silverton, said the company has offered the EPA a $6.5 million settlement – an offer the EPA is mulling. In return for the money, Perino said Sunnyside is merely asking the EPA to reiterate that it is not liable for all damage going forward…

If Sunnyside wants the EPA to release it from liability, at $6.5 million the EPA probably isn’t biting.

“$6.5 million is a starting point,” said Mike Holmes, the EPA’s Denver-based remedial project manager for Region 8, which includes Silverton. The EPA could turn to the Superfund, a designation that gives the agency broad powers to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and force responsible parties to pay for the cleanup.

Perino said Sunnyside vehemently opposes Cement Creek becoming a Superfund site, noting the people of Silverton oppose it, and that the designation likely would undermine Silverton’s economy and Sunnyside’s collaborative work with the Animas River Stakeholders.

Peggy Linn, the EPA’s Region 8 community involvement coordinator, said if Silverton would support the EPA designating upper Cement Creek a Superfund site, making it easier for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign off on the designation, the agency might have a limestone water-treatment plant up and running within five years…

And using about $8 million from government grants and in-kind donations, the group has managed significant environmental progress, including the cleanup of Mineral Creek. It has also lobbied U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to push Congress for good Samaritan legislation. This would protect “vigilante” environmentalists from taking on liability for the sites they try to reclaim.

During Animas River Stakeholders meetings, there is a lot more talk about exciting emerging technologies that might address the mine drainage into Cement Creek cheaply than there is hot talk about holding Sunnyside’s feet to the fire.

An exception is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, who places the blame on Sunnyside and who is frustrated by others’ complacency on the subject. Metals draining out of Gold King Mine have increased tremendously since Sunnyside placed bulkheads into the American Tunnel. During a recent stakeholders meeting in Silverton Town Hall, Hennis lambasted the environmental record of Kinross Gold Corp., the mining conglomerate that owns Sunnyside. He said the only solution was for Sunnyside to remove the bulkheads from American Tunnel and pay for Cement Creek’s cleanup…

Asked how personal tensions with Hennis were affecting the Animas River Stakeholders, co-coordinator Simon acknowledged, “we’ve all had our problems with Todd.” He said he did not like discussing it. “I think when Todd enters it, the conversation becomes kind of cheap and trite. We’ve all committed our lives to this thing.”

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: Baby steps towards decommissioning

June 23, 2013

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The pause is officially being lifted.

Monica Sheets, of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Lincoln Park/Cotter Community Advisory Group on Thursday that the lifting of the pause does not mean the work will resume immediately, but that the department will start getting plans and documents consistent with the roadmap for decommissioning the Cotter site.

The original letter setting the pause, issued in March 2012, said the CAG would be reformed and the roadmap would be formulated during the time off of operations.

“I was under the impression that since those two things were done, we could lift the pause,” Sheets said.

Sheets said she will send a letter to Cotter informing them that the pause was lifted and what the process will be moving forward.

“I would just hope that that letter would be very specific,” said CAG member and Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste co-president Sharyn Cunningham.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Eagle River Watershed Council Waterwise Thursday May 16: Are you wiser than a sixth grader?

May 10, 2013

eaglemineredcliffeeagleriverwatershedcouncil.jpg

From email from the Eagle River Watershed Council:

Join us for a special Water Wise “Thursday” brought to you by the 6th Graders of Homestake Peak School of Expeditionary Learning. After an in-depth, multiple month study, these students are ready to teach you “the what, the so what, and the now what?” of the Eagle Mine Superfund Site.

The event will take place Thursday, May 16th at 5:30 at the Walking Mountains Science Center. The students will begin with a living history museum where you can chat with figures of the past and then, they take you in depth into the history, science and future of the Eagle River. Beverages and appetizers will be provided.

More Eagle River Watershed coverage here and here.


Citizens Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Citizen Advisory Group gets update on de-commissioning roadmap

April 22, 2013

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The road map integrates the paths of the various authorities that cover different parts of the site, said Jennifer Opila, radioactive materials unit leader with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The documents cover the requirements for 1988 Consent Decree/Remedial Action Plan (CD/RAP), Cotter’s operating license and the Comprehensive Environment Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund).

The document originally was published in July 2012, prior to the “pause” that is in effect at the site. CDPHE and the Environmental Protection Agency accepted public comments on the document at that time and released the current version at the end of March.

“This is the road map in its final stage at this time,” Opila said. “For now, we are not planning on taking formal comments on this version of the road map.”

However, she said the document is fluid and subject to change as the process moves forward, so the agencies will be accepting informal comments over time.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund de-commissioning could take 10-15 years

April 19, 2013

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Members of a Community Advisory Group took their first look at a road map defining the course of action for decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill Thursday. The now defunct mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils.

Jennifer Opila, a state health department radioactive materials unit leader, told the group that the road map will likely be updated and changed as the decommissioning goes forward. Basically it outlines what cleanup has been done and what plans are already in place. “We will need to update the plans to make sure they meet the needs as we go forward and the community will be involved,” Opila said. “Some information has been developed but in almost every case, we think more info needs to be gathered as we develop a remedial investigation.”

The very next step is uncertain, she said. “We are in new territory with a new team for both the state and the EPA so a lot of things we still are trying to figure out,” Opila said. “We might start with Operable Unit 1 (the Lincoln Park community) or what makes sense — maybe it is the mill site itself or all the units at the same time.” As the cleanup plan progresses, “We will start to compare potential different remedies to see if each meets all the nine criteria and is protective of human health and environment,” said Peggy Linn, EPA community involvement coordinator. “I hate to say it but we might look at the cost a little bit. We will discuss the findings all along the way with the group,” Linn said.

Once a proposed remedy or cleanup plan is selected, the public will again have a chance to comment. A remedial design will be followed by the remedial action plan during which, “We start actually building it,” Linn said. Even after the cleanup is complete, health authorities will continue five-year reviews to, “Check to see that everything is working,” Linn said. Decommissioning could take 10 to 15 years.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: De-commissioning plan winding its way to the EPA

April 4, 2013

lincolnparksuperfund.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A road map defining the course of action for cleanup and decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill has been finalized. The plan has been prepared by state and federal health authorities after public input. It will be discussed during the Community Advisory Group meeting from 2 to 5 p.m. April 18 at the Fremont County administration building, Sixth and Macon streets, Room 207.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988 because uranium and molybdenum contamination seeped into groundwater and soils.

After state and federal health officials conduct a review of documentation, the site characterization will be the first step in the decommissioning process, which could take 10 to 15 years to complete. Public comment will be accepted at each stage of the process.

The site characterization will detail any problem areas and also will include a final public health assessment for Lincoln Park.

Final studies will be amassed in a remedial investigation report that will outline prior cleanup and current cleanup work.

From the remedial investigation report, a proposed cleanup remedy will be outlined and health officials also will screen possible alternative actions. Among decisions that will be made along the way will be whether to seal the primary lined impoundment — which already contains tailings and demolished buildings — or move all the waste to an offsite repository.

A final remedy will be selected followed by an EPA Superfund Record of Decision.

The final cleanup then will take place.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: Judge Robert Hyatt rules against Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste

March 16, 2013

cottercontamination

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A Denver District Court judge ruled Tuesday that the state health department did not abuse its discretion when setting a financial security for the clean up of the Cotter Corp. uranium mill here.

The suit, filed in 2010 on behalf of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, disputed the amount of the total financial security set by state health officials alleging that it was set at $20.2 million when estimated costs for cleanup and decommissioning exceed $43.7 million.

The suit was seeking an order to require Cotter to post $54.3 million in financial warranty costs for the entire facility and direct the state health department to recalculate estimates of the total costs.

However, Judge Robert Hyatt ruled that he is, “Convinced that state health officials and Cotter engaged in a thorough analysis of the financial requirements for decommissioning of the mill and the decision to approve the final numbers was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of the agency’s discretion, unsupported by the evidence, or contrary to the law.” He entered a judgment in favor of Steve Tarlton and his employers.

Hyatt wrote in his 27page ruling that the “exhaustive process” led to his review of more than 3,000 pages of documents.

“We’re pleased the judge reached the conclusion that the department acted entirely properly,” said John Hamrick, Cotter Mill manager.

“It appears the judge has accepted the health department’s representation the state will work to fix all the problems we’ve identified,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of the citizen group. “He’s gonna let the process move forward and not going to interfere.”

Cunningham said some good things have come from the suit.

“The EPA is taking a more serious role, we have a new community advisory group, there have been health department personnel changes and the Governor’s office has pledged to maintain oversight on how the cleanup progresses. We are going to watch to make sure we see the plans brought to the community for input,” Cunningham said.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Community Advisory Group has first meeting, 15-20 year decommissioning planned

March 2, 2013

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A Community Advisory Group met for the first time Thursday, kicking off what will be a 15- to 20year process to decommission the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill south of town.

The Cotter Uranium Mill opened in 1958, became a part of a Superfund cleanup site in 1984 and ceased processing uranium for yellowcake in 2006. Cotter officials plan to close the mill forever and have already torn down most of the buildings on site.

At the meeting Thursday, the 14-member advisory group was introduced to entirely new teams of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state health department officials who will help guide the clean up of the site.
“The community advisory group input is always useful to the EPA,” said Martin Hestmark of the EPA. “We are going to listen to you,” said Mario Robles, a project manager for the EPA.

Among members of the new group are Jackie Mewes, a Canon City resident who worked 26 years at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant during production and closure. “There is a broken infrastructure here because I see that things are not followed up on for sometimes two to three years. The process and regulations need to be up to date and the EPA needs to provide facilitation,” Mewes said.

Joe McMahon will serve as group facilitator on behalf of the EPA. He told the group members, “You all have other hats but in these meetings you are representing the community.”

“Am I missing something or why don’t we have a member from Cotter?” asked group member Marvin Eller. “They can’t be all bad.” McMahon told Eller that the group probably will get input from Cotter officials but that likely will come through the state health department and not through an actual representative sitting on the board. The group will advise state and federal health officials on proposals but it will be up to those agencies to make final decisions on the cleanup process. Chris Urbina, health department executive director, told the group that a road map on how the cleanup will proceed should be ready within a month, giving the group time to organize. At that point, a year-long pause in work will come to an end and cleaning up the mill site will begin, he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A new Community Advisory Group is ready to get to work and should give direction to cleanup efforts at the Cotter Uranium Mill.

After a nearly yearlong pause to form the group and establish a road map for the complicated decommissioning process, work can begin. The 15member group will meet with state and federal officials at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 128 Main St.

The group is made up of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste members, City Councilwoman Pat Freda, Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne, former Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl and several other interested community members.

The group’s members will decide protocols for moving forward and will hear an update on the Cotter Mill site from state health department officials

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

The Cotter Uranium Mill site is mostly a naked landscape these days. For the first time since it opened in 1958, no native Colorado ores are on the site.

“It is a historic milestone; the last pile of ore was moved last week,” said John Hamrick, mill manager. “We tore down the whole mill without any injuries and the only buildings left are the office, change house, maintenance shop and analytical lab.”

All the other mill buildings have been chopped, placed around the edges of the primary impoundment — at least 10 feet from a plastic liner to prevent punctures — and buried in dirt, Hamrick said. Even the boilers have been disposed of after they were filled with a cement slurry.

The mill continues to employ 29 workers, who are busy with environmental monitoring work and the massive report writing that must be done. They measure 100-plus water wells, surface water and air monitors. Hamrick said when the primary and secondary impoundment are capped for good, they will be completely dry repositories that are supposed to last 1,000 years. “We will have to make sure the cover material is impervious enough that if the plastic liner ever goes away, any release would be very slow,” Hamrick said…

believes the tailings and chopped-up buildings should stay where they are and not moved off site as part of decommissioning.

“There is no credible pathway where contamination can get out of the site into the community.

And out of 45 mills in the country, Cotter is one of the very few that has the plastic liner under the impoundment ponds,” Hamrick said.

“Before we have our license terminated there cannot be any remedial activities left and all the remedies that will be implemented have to be shown to be protective of human health and environment,” Hamrick said.

“Before we have our license terminated there cannot be any remedial activities left and all the remedies that will be implemented have to be shown to be protective of human health and environment,” Hamrick said.

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

According to an analysis submitted to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in November, removing tailings from the Cotter Corp., Uranium Mill site south of Cañon City would be prohibitive due to both cost and danger to workers, the public and the environment. Cotter submitted the analysis to CDPHE at the department’s request, said Cotter Vice President of Milling John Hamrick. It is part of the process of updating plans to decommission to the site. According to the analysis, there is an estimated 10,061,000 cubic yards of material in the company’s Main Impoundment, weighing about 15,292,720 tons…

Cotter used the example of the Moab, Utah, Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation Project to make its estimates. “That’s the only yardstick we have,” Hamrick said.

Using that standard, they estimate it would take 5.4 years to move the materials from the Cotter facility and would require 455 trucks or one 114-car freight train every day, five days a week to complete the project. The document estimates the cost of moving the tailings no more than 30 miles would be at least $895 million. The cost estimate was made understanding that no site has been considered or researched…

Gary Baughman, director of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CDPHE, said leaving the impoundments in place and sealing the ponds for permanent storage are provisions contained within Cotter’s radioactive materials license.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


The Willow Creek Restoration Committee is celebrating their 15 year anniversary

February 16, 2013

commodorewasterockcreede.jpg

From The Mineral County Miner (Guinevere Nelson):

The Creede Mining District had many waste rock piles, seeps, mine adits and mill tailings when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) performed their preliminary assessment of Willow Creek in 1994. The findings prompted further inspection of Willow Creek’s water and were summarized into a report in 1997.

This report provided the basis for listing the Creede Mining District on the National Priorities List under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Com-pensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund Act.

The Superfund Listing encompassed the entire Creede Mining District, including both branches of Willow Creek. The consequences of Superfund designation on Creede’s tourist based economy were unknown, but a few concerned citizens were not interested in finding out.

Steve Russell from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Mark Haugen of the Rio Grande Soil Conservation Service and with the support of the City of Creede, held a meeting and informed attendees about the proposed listing.

A year later, the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee was taking action to address the issues causing poor water quality in Willow Creek without EPA intervention. The Creede Mining District was not listed as a Superfund Site and the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee went to work.

To complete their work, the WCRC defined six core goals to guide their efforts: 1) Protect the Rio Grande from future fish kills associated with nonpoint source releases during unusual hydrologic events. 2) Improve the visual and aesthetic aspects of the Willow Creek watershed and its historical mining district. 3) Implement appropriate and cost-effective flood control and stabilization measures for nonpoint sources. 4) Protect and preserve historic structures. 5) Reclaim the Willow Creek floodplain below Creede to improve the physical, chemical, biological and aesthetic qualities of the creek as an integral part of the local community. 6) Continue to improve water quality and physical habitat quality in the Willow Creek watershed as part of a long-term watershed management program.

From its inception, the Willow Creek Project has had a firm commitment to find innovative, non-regulatory approaches to improve the water quality in Willow Creek and to protect the gold medal fishery in the Rio Grande River downstream – a premier fly-fishing stream. Local residents were ready and eager to apply best management practices (BMP’s) to reduce the metals in the stream so that water quality standards could be achieved, only to find out that the information and data on the sources and loadings of the metals were incomplete. The WCRC received CDPHE funding and spent from 1999-2003 sampling surface water, groundwater, waste rock piles, mine pools, macroinvertebrates and fish to fill in the information gaps.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Cañon City: Cotter Corp, Inc. gets Colorado’s blessing to decommission their mill site at Lincoln Park

February 3, 2013

cottercontamination.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

Cotter applied for termination of its operating license in January 2012 after announcing it did not intend to resume uranium milling operations at the site. Therefore, the license was amended to delete references to operations and to shift existing requirements from operations to decommissioning and reclamation.

“Amending Cotter’s license coordinates regulatory activities and the facility decommissioning and closure process,” said Gary Baughman, Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division director. “The state, EPA and Cotter will now focus on the planning and work that needs to be done to successfully terminate the license, close out the Consent Decree from 1988 and remove the site from the National Priorities List.”

Because Cotter is no longer authorized to operate the mill, the license was amended to delete references to operations and to shift existing requirements from operations to decommissioning and reclamation.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.


Cañon City: Cotter Corp, Inc. gets Colorado’s blessing to decommission their mill site at Lincoln Park

January 30, 2013

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

otter Corp. has the green light to decommission its uranium mill. “The Colorado Department of Public Health has issued an amended radioactive materials license to Cotter to reflect current activities,” said Jeannie Natterman, public information specialist. “It is a housekeeping measure since they are not processing ore anymore. “Now it is a decommissioning and reclamation license,” she said.

Cotter officials will continue to address radon releases from the impoundments, daily perimeter inspections as well as groundwater testing. In addition, Cotter workers are finishing the demolition of old buildings, which are being placed into the primary impoundment, Natterman said. “Amending Cotter’s license coordinates regulatory activities with the decommissioning and closure process,” explained Gary Baughman, hazardous materials division director.

State, federal and Cotter officials now will focus on the planning and work that needs to be done to successfully terminate the license and remove the site from the federal Superfund list. The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988. A steering committee also is revamping the Community Advisory Group, whose 12 to 15 members will review cleanup studies and proposed methods of cleanup to the regulatory agencies.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Change in state molybdenum standards slated for February 2013

October 17, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

In February 2013, the size and shape of the molybdenum plume in Lincoln Park ground water will shrink because of changes in state standards.
Previously, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission had set the standard at 35 micrograms of molybdenum per liter of water. Effective Feb. 1, 2013, that will change to 210 micrograms per liter of water. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s enforcement level is 100 micrograms per liter of water.

In addition to Colorado Standard, the Cotter Mill, which is the original source of the Lincoln Park plume, also must comply with NRC standard. The levels must be at least as restrictive as the state standards. Because the NRC level is now more restrictive than the state standards the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment will require Cotter to meet the 100 micrograms per liter of water level.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A new cleanup standard for molybdenum levels in groundwater has drastically reduced the size of a cleanup area contaminated by the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community became a part of a federal Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup site in 1984 after molybdenum and uranium contamination seeped from unlined tailings ponds into the groundwater.

As of Feb. 1, the state Water Quality Control Commission standard for cleanup of molybdenum in water will be 210 micrograms per liter, up from the previous standard of 35 micrograms per liter, according to a fact sheet issued by state health officials Tuesday.

Despite the change, Cotter will be required to clean up groundwater at any reading above 100 micrograms per liter because that standard is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A map included with the fact sheet shows two small plumes targeted for cleanup.

“This means that 16 wells previously included in the more conservative standard are now outside the plume boundary. Only six wells are inside the Lincoln Park plume,” according to the fact sheet.
“I object to this change in the moly standard for groundwater as I believe from studies I’ve read that it will have an adverse impact on health (of people) through bones, gout and arthritis when drinking well water at this level,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co­chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste. “This will allow Cotter to avoid protective cleanup.”

The fact sheet indicates the most common negative health effect from consuming too much molybdenum for a long period of time is gout.

Wells that are located within the contamination area are not being used for human consumption. Instead residents have been hooked up to the city water supply.

“Groundwater contaminate levels in most areas have been decreasing even though there is no active groundwater cleanup action in place in the area,” according to the fact sheet.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Cement Creek restoration update: Treatment plant = $6.5 million, Annual expenses = $910,000

October 15, 2012

cementcreekanimasrivermixingzoneusgs.jpg

From The Durango Herald (Mark Esper):

Sunnyside Gold Corp. last October offered to contribute up to $6.5 million to address water-quality issues in Cement Creek and the Animas River, including up to $5 million to operate “a cost-effective” treatment plant to process tainted water spewing from the mine portals above Silverton. But that $5 million for operations would keep the plant running only for about five years, according to the report by MWH Global, of Boise, Idaho.

However, Larry Perino, reclamation manager for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the report “does not suggest that other less-expensive methodologies may not be feasible.” Perino said the purpose of the MWH Global report was not to suggest the ultimate determination of what may be the best alternative. “Rather, it is the goal of the report to set forth feasible alternatives against which other methodologies or alternatives may be measured.”[...]

The MWH Global report looked at five alternatives, with construction costs estimated at between $4.5 million and $6.5 million, and operating costs pegged at between $876,000 and $1.4 million.

MWH Global said that two of the alternatives stood out as “superior to the others” on a “nonfinancial screening criteria.” But it said one of those two alternatives has lower operating costs and thus “is financially superior.” The project is seen as a possible solution to heavy metals loading in Cement Creek from acidic mine drainage.

The problem is considered so serious that the Environmental Protection Agency found the site eligible for Superfund listing last year. But lacking community support, the EPA backed off its proposed listing in April and agreed to proceed with a collaborative process with the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

The four mine portals that are the focus of attention are the Mogul, Red & Bonita, Gold King No. 7 and the American Tunnel.

More water pollution coverage here.


Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act EPA style

October 11, 2012

effluent.jpg

Here’s a list of things you can do to celebrate from the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s an excerpt:

Volunteer in your community

Find a watershed or wellhead protection organization in your community and volunteer to help. If there are no active groups, consider starting one. Use EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed to locate groups in your community, or visit the Watershed Information Network’s How to Start a Watershed Team.

EPA’s adopt your watershed
How to start a watershed team

More EPA coverage here.


CDPHE and Cotter Corp agree on a plan to end the Schwartzwalder Mine’s pollution of Ralston Creek with uranium — pumping and treating groundwater

October 3, 2012

schwartzwalderminedivisionofreclamationminingandsafety.jpg

The two parties have agreed on the geology and now believe they can pump enough water to lower the levels of water in the main shaft 150 feet below the Ralston Creek alluvium. The same approach being used at California Gulch; the perpetual pumping and treating of groundwater. Proof that the energy costs for uranium extraction sometimes never end. Here’s a report from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

The latest test data show that highly toxic water in the Schwartzwalder mine’s main shaft seeps underground into Ralston Creek, which flows to Ralston Reservoir.

A settlement deal requires Cotter to pump and treat millions of gallons of water and lower the level to 150 feet below the top of that 2,000-foot-deep shaft. This is intended to prevent uranium — in concentrations up to 1,000 times the health standard — from contaminating water supplies.

Cotter also must provide $3.5 million in financial assurance money to ensure cleanup of the mine west of Denver is done and pay a civil penalty of $55,000. Another $39,000 in penalties is to be waived.

The deal, approved by state regulators, ends Cotter’s lawsuits challenging state orders to clean up the mine and the creek. A state judge ruled in favor of regulators and Cotter appealed the decision.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Concerned citizens balk at Cotter rep on steering committee related to decommissioning

September 28, 2012

lincolnparksuperfund.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Citizens objections to Cotter Corp. having a representative on a steering committee nominating members for a new Community Advisory Group have made health officials want to rethink the idea.

State and federal health officials hosted a public meeting to get input on reforming the Community Advisory Group that will be the community voice for weighing in on the decommissioning plans for the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. Because the mill’s Manager John Hamrick was listed as a steering committee member, citizens raised questions about whether that would be ethical because Cotter is the responsible party for the clean up.

“This is a trust issue,” Paul Carestia of Canon City told health officials.

Although EPA Regional Superfund Remedial Program Director Bill Murray said that health officials felt it was appropriate to have a Cotter representative, Dr. Chris Urbina, state health department executive director, said he would like more time to think about the steering committee makeup.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Cañon City: Hearing for de-commissioning of Cotter Mill is Thursday

September 25, 2012

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State and federal health officials will host a public meeting this week to work toward putting together a community advisory group to help guide the Cotter Corporation Uranium Mill’s decommissioning process. The meeting, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Canon City’s City Hall, 128 Main St., will be hosted by Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health officials…

The decommissioning process is expected to take 10 to 15 years and will be guided by both the state health department and the EPA.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


John Hamrick (Cotter Corp) to Florence City Council ‘We do take our environmental responsibilities pretty seriously’

August 21, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Charlotte Burrous):

“We’ve made a lot of progress on the environmental cleanup that we’re doing out there,” he said. “We still have a ways to go. We do take our environmental responsibilities pretty seriously.

One of the things Cotter has provided is a hook up to the Cañon City water system to anyone in Lincoln Park, who was qualified and had a well out here, he said.

“The historic operation did release radioactive materials and other metals into the environment,” Hamrick said. “The ground water in Lincoln Park does not meet standards yet, but we do meet standards for release of contaminated materials.”

“One of the things that’s been suggested is off-site disposal of the tailings or otherwise picking up all the tailings and material and taking it elsewhere,” Hamrick said. “Right now, we’ve got more than 90 percent of our contaminants already stabilized. Excavating those materials, whether by truck or by train results in exposure to workers, the environment and the public. That doesn’t have to happen under the plans. Cotter owes the state another look at what off-site disposal would mean. We will be submitting that to the Department of Health for their review and approval. All told, we have about 10 million cubic yards or 15 million tons that will be contained in the impoundments.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Colorado Water 2012: It’s the twentieth anniversary of the Summitville Mine disaster

July 19, 2012

summitvillemine.jpg

Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series written by Cindy Medina with Alamosa Riverkeeper. Click through and read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:

In 1992, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency response unit found a mountain decimated with a massive open scar, pools of murky green water, and snake-like black pipes lying throughout the site. In contrast, the untouched snow-capped San Juan Mountains surrounded the catastrophe. Later, downstream fishermen and farmers reported fish, victims of the cyanide spill at the mine site, floating in the Alamosa River and in their private reservoirs. How would the governmental agencies and the local residents respond to such an environmental catastrophe with a remediation cost that eventually would exceed $220 million?

The degree of environmental irresponsibility displayed by a Canadian mining company was counterbalanced by the degree of commitment and dedication by local residents, federal and state agencies to this environmental tragedy. In 2002, a settlement was reached with Robert Friedland for $28.5 million, with $5 million exclusively designated for the use “to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of” the injured natural resources. This natural resource damage settlement looks small compared to Friedland’s current status of a billionaire who works out of Vancouver, Singapore, and Magnolia as reported by author Walter Isaacson.

But the settlement proved significant to agencies and organizations for its leverage potency for additional monies for projects designed to restore the watershed.

More Summitville Superfund site coverage here and here.


Cañon City: Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site ‘path forward’ public meeting Thursday

July 15, 2012

cottercontamination.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

The community has an opportunity to meet and discuss the proposed path forward for Cotter Corp., at a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Abbey. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Cotter have been working to develop a road map for laying out the most comprehensive and efficient path forward for completing the remediation of the Cotter site…

A public comment period will be open until Aug. 19. The draft document will be available on the CDPHE website, http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/cotter/index.htm, Monday.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


San Juan Mountains: Acid rock drainage predated mining activity by millennia, mining made it worse

July 6, 2012

acidminedrainageuniversityofcolorado.jpg

From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” was recently given an award by the Geological Society of America as the best environmental publication of 2011. The report identifies a number of high-country streams in Colorado, including Red Mountain Creek, where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of historic mining.

“Of course, the mining made it much, much worse,” commented Don Paulson, a former chemistry professor who is now curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum. Paulson has followed efforts to identify sources of stream pollution and the remedial measures undertaken to improve water quality in the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.

There was a big push to clean up the water affected by mine waste (and the role it plays in the inability of high country waterways to support aquatic life) in the 1980s. At that time the Colorado Department of Health (now Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) first sued under the Superfund Act, then negotiated with Idarado Mining and its parent company, Newmont Mining, substantial cleanups on both the Telluride and Ouray sides of the mountain. The Telluride side saw improvements to the water quality of the Upper San Miguel River. But the acid pH and the levels of zinc and other minerals in Red Mountain Creek has not changed significantly despite Idarado’s remediation in the area of the Treasury Tunnel.

More water pollution coverage here.


Restoration: Gilman mine mitigation helps clean up the Eagle River

July 2, 2012

eagleriverbasin.jpg

From the Summit Daily News (Randy Wyrick):

After many years of Eagle Mine cleanup — cleanup of contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc — the river is pretty healthy, [Melissa MacDonald] said.

“It’s pretty good. It meets the existing standard for the river,” said MacDonald, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council. “We’d like a little higher standard, but currently they’re doing a good job.”

“They” are CBS, the media company, formerly Viacom. They acquired the Eagle Mine in the mid-1980s as part of some other deal. What they acquired was a Superfund site, designating the Eagle Mine as one of the nation’s most polluted places.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: The EPA, et. al., are hoping to chart out a new project roadmap

June 24, 2012

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Wrangling over cleanup of radioactive waste at one of Colorado’s worst environmental disasters grew so irksome this past spring that Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Environmental Protection Agency, Cotter Corp. and Cañon City residents have declared a timeout. The official purpose is to reset the whole process for dealing with Cotter’s former uranium mill near the Arkansas River. The EPA deployed a private facilitator to create a new “road map” for finally completing a Superfund cleanup started in 1984. But the “pause” in cleanup actions, which otherwise were supposed to be done in March, is failing to quell conflict.

Cañon City residents point to recent data — collected by Cotter and accepted by state regulators — that show uranium contamination in groundwater exceeding health standards. “My well has been contaminated for decades, and they have no plans to actively clean up the groundwater, which could be done,” said Sharyn Cunningham, 65, who runs Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste and whose family previously produced alfalfa on irrigated land.

And accusations fly alleging that decisions may already have been made to bury waste permanently in an impoundment pond at the mill site, rather than considering its removal. The citizens group contends that the impoundment is leaking. Cotter’s top official said in a recent interview that the company favors burying waste in the impoundment, capping it with clay and turning over the site to the federal government…

The “pause” declared by Hickenlooper “was needed so we could provide a clear road map for how all of the actions taking place as part of the cleanup fit together,” spokesman Eric Brown wrote in an e-mailed response to queries.
This was done partly “so the community would not worry that important cleanup work was being done without their input.”

Some monitoring and cleanup activites continue.

“Once we have a road map, we will lift the pause and the community will have a better sense for how each cleanup document and proposal fits with the larger cleanup efforts under all laws and programs,” Brown wrote.
Eventually, the CDPHE and Cotter will conduct an analysis of alternatives, including costs and environmental aspects of moving waste to off-site disposal locations, he said.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Cotter closing their mill near Cañon City depends on state and federal coordination of superfund designation, radioactive materials license and the court consent decree

March 20, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

There must be a termination of the radioactive materials license, the court must close out the consent decree for the remedial action plan and the site must be deleted from the National Priorities — Superfund — List…

[Steve Tarlton, radiation program manager of the hazardous materials and waste management division of CDPHE] said there are four general things that need to be taken care of: the facility; the impoundments; the contaminated soil and the contaminated water…

The department is developing a “roadmap” of what the termination process with look like beginning with a determination of what is known and where the holes are. Tarlton said that characterization would become a public document. The next step will be to define possible remedies and their feasibility, with additional public comment. Then comes the choice of remedies, which includes more public input. Finally, the chosen remedies will be implemented…

The cleanup process for the Superfund site will include the groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Tarlton said the contamination in the groundwater there includes molybdenum and uranium, “not in very high levels but above drinking water standards.”[...]

Once the work is done, the impoundment sites will be turned over to the Department of Energy for long-term care.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.


Cotter Mill history: The mill first processed uranium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program

March 4, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

Here’s the first part of a new series, a look back at the history of the Cotter Mill near Cañon City now that the mill is being decommissioned, from Rachel Alexander writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

Construction on the Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City began in April 1958. By the end of that year, the mill had processed 7,700 tons of uranium ore. Now the company is moving into the process of terminating its radioactive materials license and getting off of the National Priority List.

“There were a lot of thorium deposits in this area,” said Cotter’s Vice President of Milling John Hamrick of the choice of the location. At the time, in the early days of the nuclear industry, it was unclear whether the standard fuel would be uranium or thorium based.

Early on, the mill processed uranium ore into yellowcake — U3O8 — for the federal government. “The mills in that era were operated by the Atomic Energy Commission for weapons,” Cain said…

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was discovered that ground water supplies in the Lincoln Park neighborhood had been contaminated by the operations at the mill. The water was discovered to be contaminated with uranium and molybdenum from the mill along Sand Creek and affecting the private wells in the area. Overexposure to either element could cause heavy metal poisoning. The site and the Lincoln Park neighborhood was added to the National Priorities — or Superfund — List in 1984.

More nuclear coverage here.


Cañon City: The CDPHE extends the public comment period for the shut down of the Cotter Mill

February 16, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The deadline has been extended from Friday to March 2 for comment on a new evaporation pond design, an on-site soil excavation and groundwater characterization plan and soil remediation criteria. In addition, public comment can be provided on a new document, dealing with a groundwater remediation water management analysis, which will be posted Friday at http://www.cdphe. state.co.us/hm/cotter/index.htm.

Comments should be submitted to Steve Tarlton, radiation program manager, Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246 or via email to steve.tarlton@state.co.us.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


John Hamrick (Cotter Corp): ‘We see things are getting a lot better — The amount of uranium out there is a lot less’

February 11, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

“We are committed to cleaning up our mill,” mill manager John Hamrick said during a public meeting Thursday in Canon City. “We do take this obligation very seriously and we want to be able to demonstrate the remedial action is compliant with the health and safety standards,” Hamrick said.

About 50 people attended the latest in a series of public meetings planned to provide the public updates on the clean-up plan…

Some members of the public charged that contaminated water is leaking from the site to adjacent neighborhoods. State regulators rejected the charge. “A leak has not been demonstrated,” [Department of Public Health Hazardous Materials Division Chief Steve Tarlton] said. “It is possible, so more study is being done. But we are convinced it is not conclusive that there is a leak.”[...]

Hamrick showed a 1975 map of groundwater contamination spread and compared it to a 2010 map. “We see things are getting a lot better. The amount of uranium out there is a lot less and it is not like things are spread out, things are getting better,” Hamrick said.

More coverage from Rachel Alexander writing for The Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

The documents under review by CDPHE, the Environmental Protection agency and the public are the New Evaporation Pond Conceptual Design; the Onsite Soil Excavation and Groundwater Characterization Process Plan; and the Soil Remediation Criteria Selection.

This is the first round of documents that are being developed by Cotter as part of the process to terminate its radioactive materials license and the deletion of the site from the Superfund list. About 50 people attended the meeting.

“This is a process as we get down the road and try to figure out how to clean up this site,” said CDPHE public information officer Jeannine Natterman. “We’re going forward together with this.”

“We’re reviewing these documents at the same time you are,” said Steve Tarlton, radiation program manager of the hazardous materials and waste management division of CDPHE.

Tarlton and Cotter’s Vice President of Milling John Hamrick made brief presentations about the three documents and the decisions that the department will be making before a question and answer period was conducted.

“It is our understanding that the public wants to be more involved in the document reviews,” Tarlton said.

“We have been producing documents and will be producing documents for review by CDPHE,” Hamrick said. “I’m here to tell you tonight that we’re committed to cleaning up our mill. We do take this obligation very seriously and intend to be able to close this mill in compliance with all standards.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.


On Thursday CDPHE is hosting the first public meeting for decommissioning the Cotter Mill near Cañon City

February 7, 2012

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

The meeting, to be hosted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at Garden Park High School, 201 N. Sixth St. The meeting will focus on the conceptual design for a new evaporation pond, on-site soil excavation, soil remediation criteria and groundwater characterization…

Cotter officials indicate in their report that preliminary assessment of radiological soil cleanup criteria designed to meet the higher standards could mean the potential of cleanup of vast amounts of uneven soils, environmental degradation across much of Cotter property, negative environmental impacts to adjacent lands, increased risks to public health and excessive cost. In relation to the groundwater characterization, Cotter proposes to use 10 water monitoring wells, one of which is at the neighboring Shadow Hills Golf Course, to test contamination levels.

The reports to be focused on at the meeting can be downloaded at www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/cotter/index.htm or at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center, 612 Royal Gorge Blvd. which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

For those who cannot attend the meeting, written public comments will be accepted through Feb. 17 and can be mailed to Steve Tarlton, CDPHE, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246 or emailed to steve.tarlton@state.co.us.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Whit Gibbons: ‘Why do we need the Environmental Protection Agency?’

January 29, 2012

rockymountainarsenal1964

From the Tuscaloosa News (Whit Gibbons). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Want to have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood? How about having high levels of brain- damaging mercury dumped into your favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers and fouling the air people breathe?

These health hazards were once commonplace in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses. Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy place to live.

Those who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations will put profit ahead of all other considerations–including the health and well-being of the general populace.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


Cotter terminating Cañon City radioactive materials license at the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

December 17, 2011

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A letter from Cotter president Amory Quinn says Cotter “will not seek to renew” the radioactive materials license Cotter has from the state health department. Cotter plans to decommission and decontaminate the mill site and to request license termination, Quinn said in the Dec. 12 letter…

The decision marks a possible turning point in a long-running controversy over the mill.

Cañon City residents opposed to the mill applauded the move.”We think this is the first sign of serious progress on getting this place cleaned up. They have stated now that they are going away. The challenge is to see that they clean it up properly before they do,” said Sharyn Cunningham, leader of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, who praised Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office “for engaging” on the issue…

Cotter’s operating license expires Jan. 31. The company could have submitted a renewal application 30 days before the expiration. Now the company must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule, the state health department said this morning. Under the state Radiation Control Act, decommissioned uranium mill sites must be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

For months, Cotter work crews have been jack-hammering concrete foundations and ripping apart contaminated remaining buildings a the mill. Quinn’s letter says that, by Dec. 31, only eight structures will remain at the site. The work aims to consolidate all waste in a massive impoundment pond. Next year, workers are expected to dig out toxic soil and bury that, too. The dismantling work has cost about $3.5 million, according to Cotter mill manager John Hamrick, and eventually will include construction of a new evaporative waste pond to store water pumped from a potentially contaminated creek that flows near Cotter’s property.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Jeannine Natterman):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced today Cotter Corp. has notified the department of its decision to terminate its Cañon City Uranium Mill radioactive materials license.

The current license expires Jan. 31, 2012, and Cotter was faced with submitting a renewal application 30 days prior to that expiration date. Instead, Cotter now must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule as defined in the regulations.

“This is good news for the Cañon City community,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “We appreciate Cotter Corp.’s containment and cleanup efforts and look forward to the company’s continued involved in the community as remediation and decommissioning activities occur over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The decision not to seek licensure sets the mill on a course for closure. The Radiation Control Act requires decommissioned uranium mill sites to be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

“A comprehensive, meaningful public involvement process will be followed for the license termination,” said Steve Tarlton, radioactive materials program manager for the department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division. “Through transparent and open communication, the state is committed to getting community input as the termination process moves forward.”

The current license conditions will remain in effect beyond the expiration date until the Department of Public Health and Environment notifies Cotter in writing that the license is terminated. No operations are allowed under the current license conditions and the termination process precludes restarting operations.

Specific documents required in the decommissioning plan must be submitted to the department and made available for public review and comment prior to any final approval. The documents include:

• An on-site conceptual characterization plan that describes how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils, and on-site groundwater — due Dec. 19, 2011
• An impoundment reclamation plan that includes an alternative disposal analysis – due March 31, 2012
• A review and documentation of historic cleanup actions – due March 31, 2012 • A contaminated groundwater cleanup analysis – due Feb. 17, 2012

For more background and technical information about the Cotter Cañon City Uranium Mill, see: www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/cotter/licenseinfo.htm.

More coverage from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We are just beside ourselves,” said Sharyn Cunningham of Canon City, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, an opposition group that formed 10 years ago to fight a Cotter proposal to bring new radioactive waste to the mill for disposal. “Finally, we can focus on a really good cleanup, set out by absolute standards and planning that will involve public participation,” Cunningham said. “The mill has been in no man’s land for so long and I just feel so happy about this.”

“I have worked on (opposing) this for 40 to 50 hours a week for years and I just never let up. We all worked together and kept applying pressure,” Cunningham said.

State health officials have been overseeing the cleanup of “legacy” contamination at the Cotter mill and the neighboring Lincoln Park community, which became part of a Superfund site in 1984 after the 1958-79 use of unlined tailings impoundments allowed uranium and molybdenum contamination to seep into the groundwater…

“If the mill is headed to decommissioning, I certainly hope the finances are in place to see the reclamation is paid for,” said Ed Norden, Fremont County Commission chairman. “I doubted we would ever see uranium processing out there again since there has been so much cleanup and I hope the company is committed to reclamation and the financial obligation that goes with that.” Cotter employs a dozen workers and makes use of contractors for specific jobs.

Norden said he knows some residents in the community will be disappointed there will never be high-paying mill jobs at Cotter again. “But it will be interesting to see how many jobs are created through the cleanup and reclamation. I think it is going to be a massive project,” Norden said.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Durango Herald. From the article:

Cotter once processed uranium for weapons and fuel at the mill. Federal authorities placed the mill on a national list for Superfund cleanups in 1984 after radioactive materials traced to the mill were found to have contaminated the soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually turned oversight of cleanup work to state officials. Uranium hasn’t been processed at the mill since 2006. The state requires sites that are being decommissioned to be thoroughly cleaned and restored at the operator’s expense. It’s expected to be a multimillion-dollar effort. One of Cotter’s first steps will be to submit a conceptual characterization plan describing how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils and on-site groundwater. That’s due Monday.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


Leadville: Public celebration for the delisting of Operable Unit 9 from the California Gulch Superfund Site, December 9

December 3, 2011

californiagulchleadville.jpg

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat:

Residents of Leadville and Lake County are invited to celebrate the fact that, after almost 30 years, most are no longer living in a Superfund site. Specifically the celebration is for the deletion of Operable Unit 9 from the California Gulch Superfund Site; OU9 encompasses the downtown area and West Park. The event will be Friday, Dec. 9, from noon to 2 p.m. at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, 120 W. 9th St. It is being held by the city of Leadville, Lake County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. Information will be presented on the history of the Superfund site, the OU9 remedy, and current and future cleanup progress. Light refreshments will be served.

More California Gulch coverage here and here.


After a five year review the EPA has approved the remediation plan for the Standard Mine superfund site

November 11, 2011

faultveinstandardminegunnisoncounty.jpg

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

The two-phase plan would control the flow of water through the mine to reduce contamination, and if needed, use passive water treatment to further treat runoff.

The record of decision, signed in September, has the support of the local nonprofit Standard Mine Technical Advisory Group but still needs to be selected for federal funding. It could take until 2013 before the plan is implemented, complementing remediation work already done from 2007 through 2009.

The Standard Mine, which is about five miles west of Crested Butte and drains into Elk Creek, was added to the National Priority List in 2005 because of elevated levels of metals in the soil and the creek. Elk Creek flows into Coal Creek, which is the site of the municipal water intake for Crested Butte.

“We were really fortunate that when the EPA first came in 2006, they had the funding to do some surface cleanup first,” said Anthony Poponi, executive director of Coal Creek Watershed Coalition and grant administrator for the advisory group. That work included building a repository for mine tailings that included waste rock and tailings rich in pyrite, a metal that creates acid mine drainage when exposed to air. After removing waste rock and tailings from Elk Creek, the EPA also reconfigured the creek.

“The miners had produced a creek channel around and through the mill site, which was not the natural orientation, so once we took the tailings out, we dropped the creek back to its natural alignment,” explained EPA superfund project manager Christina Progess. That alignment includes small wetlands and riparian areas and has led to a measureable reduction in metals in Coal Creek and Elk Creek…

“There are three connected mine levels,” said Poponi, “and the EPA knew water coming in at the highest level was in pretty good condition and by the time it came out at level 1 [at the bottom] it was really bad, so they did some investigations and what they came up with was the proposed plan.” The first phase of the remediation plan proposes filling the entrance at level 3, toward the top of the mine, with a flowable fill and foam. That fill, a concrete mixture, would seal off the entrance to the mine so that clean water could be prevented from entering mine workings and would reduce the amount of water coming out of level 1…

A flowthrough bulkhead would be installed at level 1 to control the water flowing out of the bottom of the mine. The bulkhead would allow for what Progess calls the “metered release” of water from the mine…

Residents interested in learning more about the plan are invited to attend an EPA-hosted community meeting on November 30, at 1 p.m. in Town Hall.

More Standard Mine coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: The dismantling of contaminated strutures has cost Cotter $3.5 million so far

November 9, 2011

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Cotter Corp. crews this week jack-hammered concrete foundations and ripped apart contaminated remaining buildings at their uranium mill, pushing to consolidate all waste in a massive impoundment pond by year’s end.

Next year, workers will dig out toxic soil 4 feet deep and bury that too, said John Hamrick, Cotter’s vice president for mill operations, outlining a dismantling project that he said has cost $3.5 million so far.

The project eventually will include construction of a new evaporative waste pond to store water pumped from a potentially contaminated creek that flows near Cotter’s property, Hamrick said…

Ten new groundwater-testing wells are to be built in a nearby urban neighborhood to monitor toxic plumes, along with additional wells west of the mill, where the latest underground plume of cancer-causing trichloroethylene was discovered last year…

State health department regulators have let Cotter deliberate on whether to reopen or embark on total cleanup and restoration of the site. But now Cotter’s operating license is about to expire. Cotter must decide by January whether to renew or to move toward reclamation and closure…

Federal authorities during the Cold War backed creation of the mill to process uranium for nuclear weapons. In 1984, the mill was deemed a Superfund environmental disaster. Toxic metal waste contaminated residential wells near Cañon City.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


CPDHE is requiring ten new monitoring wells as a condition of approval for Cotter’s license renewal at the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

November 4, 2011

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Steve Tarlton, state health department radiation control program manager, wanted to assure those attending a public meeting Wednesday that both surface water and groundwater is prevented from moving off the mill site by an earthen dam and a pumpback system located between the mill site and the Lincoln Park neighborhood. He said no new contamination is leaving the site.

Cotter Corp.’s license will expire in early 2012, so company officials must submit a renewal application by the end of this year. State health officials also want a better look at the “legacy” contamination in the neighboring Lincoln Park community, which became part of the Superfund cleanup site in 1984 after the 1958 to 1979 use of unlined tailings impoundments allowed uranium and molybdenum contamination to seep into the groundwater.

“Ten new wells will be drilled in Lincoln Park and we will examine test results to try to get good data to define the edges of the contamination plume,” Ethington said. The hydrology of the area is controlled by the leaking of irrigation ditches, but one irrigation ditch — the Pump Ditch — may be blocking contamination from escaping the Lincoln Park neighborhood. “I believe it is like a dam that is obstructing movement,” Ethington explained, pointing out that officials want to figure out how to allow the contamination to get out of the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

“A hundred years down the line what is that (Arkansas) river going to be like? And a thousand years from now people will be saying what in the hell were those guys thinking,” asked Tony Belaski, a local resident.

“I have no answer for how long it will take to get to the river. We thought it would be diluted by now — that is something we need to figure out,” Tarlton said. Tarlton said the diluting power of the Arkansas River will be much more powerful than the springs and runoff affecting groundwater in Lincoln Park.

Tarlton said officials will look for alternatives to capture groundwater sooner at the mill site before it flows away and becomes more difficult to deal with. Among alternatives that will be considered are trenching, a new evaporation pond and a water treatment facility which would be costly, Tarlton said. “All the alternatives will be evaluated during the license renewal,” Tarlton said…

State health officials said there will be several opportunities for the public to comment during meetings throughout the license renewal process. The process also will include an environmental impact assessment, Tarlton said…

And finally, state officials want to investigate the potential source of a separate groundwater plume found under the Shadow Hills Golf Course which sits just south of the mill site. “That plume only has uranium in it so it is probably a different source. It is the kind of material derived more from an ore rather than the processing of ore,” Ethington explained.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site: There is little evidence that containment ponds are leaking according to CPDHE

November 3, 2011

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

About 50 people attended an update meeting Wednesday night hosted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. A major topic of concern to those in attendance was whether the ponds leak. “I don’t see any significant evidence of a release,” said Edgar Ethington, environmental protection specialist for the state health department.

Using magnesium as the “best geochemical indicator of impoundment water” presence, Ethington said he tested at several sites all along the impoundment edges at depths up to 70 to 80 feet. Magnesium levels in the impoundment water are 60,000 to 100,000 parts per million and all but one of the edge test sites produced magnesium levels of 200 parts per million. “If the impoundment was leaking that would be sky high and it isn’t. There is minor evidence of a leak at one well that is twice what the others are (400 parts per million),” Ethington explained.

“Is it strong evidence — no — but I always make the conservative assumption. So in the license renewal phase I will ask Cotter (officials) to look at how much water is moving through there and where it is going,” Ethington said.

During his presentation, Steve Tarlton, state health department radiation control program manager, said both surface water and groundwater is prevented from moving off the mill site by an earthen dam and a pumpback system located between the mill site and the Lincoln Park neighborhood. “Surface water and groundwater are pumped back before it leaves the site,” Tarlton said…

Cotter has no immediate plans to reopen, [Cotter Mill Manager John Hamrick] said, but Cotter officials continue to study whether building a new mill would be economically feasible. Hamrick said Colorado Health Department Executive Director Chris Urbina toured the mill site Wednesday and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff Roxane White will visit the site Nov. 11 to gauge remediation progress.

More coverage from Rachel Alexander writing for the Cañon City Daily Record. From the article:

Edgar Ethington, an environmental protection specialist with CDPHE, described the investigation into a possible leak in the primary impoundment. “We’re not seeing any indication of significant release,” Ethington said…

Steve Tarlton, radiation control program manager at CDPHE, said Cotter’s license is set to expire on Jan. 31, 2012. They are required to submit a renewal application by Dec. 31. Once the department receives the application, they have 45 days to determine if the application is complete. Within 45 days after that, a public meeting must be conducted, with a second one organized within 30 days of the first meeting. The county commissioners have 90 days after the first public meeting to submit comments on the environmental report. The department will have 360 days after the second public meeting to issue their decision.

More nuclear coverage here and here.


CPDHE: Cotter Mill public meeting November 2, no official announcement about possible reopening

October 28, 2011

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

According to Jeannine Natterman, public information officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health, “As far as I know, no,” Cotter is not planning to reopen the mill. Natterman said in March 2009, Cotter officials notified the state they intended to rebuild the mill and process ore from the Mount Taylor Mine located near Grants, N.M.

Officials continue to leave the reopening option available, but have not made a final determination on whether such a move would be feasible for the company.

“That’s how they (Cotter officials) are avoiding announcing a full-blown closure,” said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste.

Cotter officials must renew the mill’s radioactive material’s license through the state health department and will be required to submit an application by Dec. 31. The license is required for Cotter to continue cleanup work on the mill property, Natterman said, and the license also would be required for the eventual reopening of the mill…

EPA and state health officials have slated topics of discussion for a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Harrison School, 920 Field Ave., which will include the renewal process for the company’s radioactive materials license. Also slated for discussion are decommissioning, the status of impoundments used to store radioactive tailings and the latest data on the Lincoln Park groundwater situation.

Yesterday, Karen Crummy reported in The Denver Post that Cotter officials were planning to reopen the mill. She cited the 2009 letter about processing ore from New Mexico. Here’s an excerpt:

Additionally, Hickenlooper said he will dispatch his chief of staff, Roxane White, to the Cotter Mill next month to evaluate cleanup efforts at the site declared a Superfund environmental disaster in 1984. “This is very important to the people down there,” he said. “I’m definitely looking at it, and Roxane is looking at it, so we can understand it in some detail and assure ourselves that there isn’t risk to human health or the environment.”[...]

Cotter is currently demolishing its buildings and disposing of the debris in one of the leaking tailing ponds. In a June 24 letter, Cotter said it intended to “maintain its Radioactive Materials License for the purpose of processing Mount Taylor ore.”[...]

Western Mining Action Project attorney Jeff Parsons said he believes Cotter is trying to drag out final shutdown of the mill to avoid what are expected to be detailed reviews of the cleanup. Because the mill is a Superfund site, the EPA must sign off on final plans.

“This is Cotter’s way of trying to push off the serious work, and the state is enabling them by not looking into the claim about Mount Taylor,” said Parsons, who is representing residents suing to force Cotter to post a larger bond to guarantee cleanup of land and water near the mill.

More coverage of next Wednesday’s public meeting from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Harrison School, 920 Field Ave. Representatives from the state Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will lead the meeting.

Topics of discussion at the formal meeting Wednesday will include the renewal process for the company’s radioactive materials license. Also slated for discussion are decommissioning, the status of impoundments used to store radioactive tailings and the latest data on the Lincoln Park ground water situation. Health officials will include an update on the northwest ground water contamination plume under the neighboring Shadow Hills Golf Course just south of the mill. Another topic of discussion will be the recent presence of TCE, or trichloroethene, in ground water at the mill. TCE is an industrial solvent generally used to remove grease from metal. According to a July report generated for Cotter by an environmental consultant, trichloroethene has been detected in ground water at levels that exceed EPA limits. The report also said the source of the TCE contamination has not been identified. In July, a phased soil gas investigation was proposed to identify potential sources of the contamination and to further map out the extent of the ground water plume. The meeting also will include a Superfund cleanup update. There also will be time for local citizens to speak privately to either state health or EPA representatives.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill: State regulators, ‘…ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers,’ according to The Denver Post

October 23, 2011

cottermillcontaminationconcerndenverpost10232011.jpg

Here’s an exposé from Karen Crummy writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. They’re running a series of photos and a aerial view of the area. Check out the cool photo of the construction of one of the leaky ponds. Here’s an excerpt:

Allowing the radioactive waste to remain on site is just the latest chapter in a 50-year saga during which regulators for the state, which owned the land during 20 years that Cotter polluted it, ignored warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, independent firms and their own engineers.

The result is that while polluted sites such as Rocky Flats became a national model for nuclear decontamination and towns like Grand Junction and Leadville evolved from environmental tragedies to recreation destinations, the cleanup of Cotter has dragged on for nearly 30 years and is at least a decade away from completion. “They were great people. They helped the industry a lot,” said Richard Ziegler, the former executive vice president of Cotter who left the firm six years ago, regarding state health regulators.

State regulators say the ponds’ leaks do not pose an immediate threat because residents no longer drink well water. “Cotter is isolated and not as environmentally dangerous” as some other sites, said Steve Tarlton, who has overseen the Superfund site for the state since 2003…

When Cotter moved to expand its mill in 1978, the EPA issued its first of many warnings ignored by the state: Consider moving the mill to a different site because of the “significant” health concerns, wrote David Wagoner, the EPA’s director of air and hazardous materials. The CBI also asked Al Hazle, head of the radiation control department, not to issue Cotter a new license until the bureau received documents it requested from Cotter. He agreed. The next day, Hazle granted the license. In a 1981 report commissioned by the EPA, the health department questioned why Hazle was not heeding advice from Robert Shukle with the state’s water quality division. Shukle inundated his boss with memos about Cotter’s shortcomings, repeatedly informing the radiation chief that Cotter was continuing to flout regulations, especially by its refusal to put “tracer” chemicals in the newly constructed impoundment ponds to see whether they were leaking.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site coverage here and here.


USGS: Hydrogeologic Setting and Simulation of Groundwater Flow near the Canterbury and Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnels, Leadville, Colorado

October 16, 2011

leadvilleminedrainagetunnel.jpg

Here’s the release from the U.S. Geological Survey (Wellman, T.P./Paschke, S.S./Minsley, Burke/Dupree, J.A.):

The Leadville mining district is historically one of the most heavily mined regions in the world producing large quantities of gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, and manganese since the 1860s. A multidisciplinary investigation was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to characterize large-scale groundwater flow in a 13 square-kilometer region encompassing the Canterbury Tunnel and the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel near Leadville, Colorado. The primary objective of the investigation was to evaluate whether a substantial hydraulic connection is present between the Canterbury Tunnel and Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel for current (2008) hydrologic conditions.

Altitude in the Leadville area ranges from about 3,018 m (9,900 ft) along the Arkansas River valley to about 4,270 m (14,000 ft) along the Continental Divide east of Leadville, and the high altitude of the area results in a moderate subpolar climate. Winter precipitation as snow was about three times greater than summer precipitation as rain, and in general, both winter and summer precipitation were greatest at higher altitudes. Winter and summer precipitation have increased since 2002 coinciding with the observed water-level rise near the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel that began in 2003. The weather patterns and hydrology exhibit strong seasonality with an annual cycle of cold winters with large snowfall, followed by spring snowmelt, runoff, and recharge (high-flow) conditions, and then base-flow (low-flow) conditions in the fall prior to the next winter. Groundwater occurs in the Paleozoic and Precambrian fractured-rock aquifers and in a Quaternary alluvial aquifer along the East Fork Arkansas River, and groundwater levels also exhibit seasonal, although delayed, patterns in response to the annual hydrologic cycle.

A three-dimensional digital representation of the extensively faulted bedrock was developed and a geophysical direct-current resistivity field survey was performed to evaluate the geologic structure of the study area. The results show that the Canterbury Tunnel is located in a downthrown structural block that is not in direct physical connection with the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. The presence of this structural discontinuity implies there is no direct groundwater pathway between the tunnels along a laterally continuous bedrock unit.

Water-quality results for pH and major-ion concentrations near the Canterbury Tunnel showed that acid mine drainage has not affected groundwater quality. Stable-isotope ratios of hydrogen and oxygen in water indicate that snowmelt is the primary source of groundwater recharge. On the basis of chlorofluorocarbon and tritium concentrations and mixing ratios for groundwater samples, young groundwater (groundwater recharged after 1953) was indicated at well locations upgradient from and in a fault block separate from the Canterbury Tunnel. Samples from sites downgradient from the Canterbury Tunnel were mixtures of young and old (pre-1953) groundwater and likely represent snowmelt recharge mixed with older regional groundwater that discharges from the bedrock units to the Arkansas River valley. Discharge from the Canterbury Tunnel contained the greatest percentage of old (pre-1953) groundwater with a mixture of about 25 percent young water and about 75 percent old water.

A calibrated three-dimensional groundwater model representing high-flow conditions was used to evaluate large-scale flow characteristics of the groundwater and to assess whether a substantial hydraulic connection was present between the Canterbury Tunnel and Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. As simulated, the faults restrict local flow in many areas, but the fracture-damage zones adjacent to the faults allow groundwater to move along faults. Water-budget results indicate that groundwater flow across the lateral edges of the model controlled the majority of flow in and out of the aquifer (79 percent and 63 percent of the total water budget, respectively). The largest contributions to the water budget were groundwater entering from the upper reaches of the watershed and the hydrologic interaction of the groundwater with the East Fork Arkansas River. Potentiometric surface maps of the simulated model results were generated for depths of 50, 100, and 250 m. The surfaces revealed a positive trend in hydraulic head with land-surface altitude and evidence of increased control on fluid movement by the fault network structure at progressively greater depths in the aquifer.

Results of advective particle-tracking simulations indicate that the sets of simulated flow paths for the Canterbury Tunnel and the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel were mutually exclusive of one another, which also suggested that no major hydraulic connection was present between the tunnels. Particle-tracking simulations also revealed that although the fault network generally restricted groundwater movement locally, hydrologic conditions were such that groundwater did cross the fault network at many locations. This cross-fault movement indicates that the fault network controls regional groundwater flow to some degree but is not a complete barrier to flow. The cumulative distributions of adjusted age results for the watershed indicate that approximately 30 percent of the flow pathways transmit groundwater that was younger than 68 years old (post-1941) and that about 70 percent of the flow pathways transmit old groundwater. The particle-tracking results are consistent with the apparent ages and mixing ratios developed from the chlorofluorocarbon and tritium results. The model simulations also indicate that approximately 50 percent of the groundwater flowing through the study area was less than 200 years old and about 50 percent of the groundwater flowing through the study area is old water stored in low-permeability geologic units and fault blocks. As a final examination of model response, the conductance parameters of the Canterbury Tunnel and Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel were manually adjusted from the calibrated values to determine if altering the flow discharge in one tunnel affects the hydraulic behavior in the other tunnel. The examination showed no substantial hydraulic connection.

The multidisciplinary investigation yielded an improved understanding of groundwater characteristics near the Canterbury Tunnel and the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. Movement of groundwater between the Canterbury Tunnel and Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel that was central to this investigation could not be evaluated with strong certainty owing to the structural complexity of the region, study simplifications, and the absence of observation data within the upper sections of the Canterbury Tunnel and between the Canterbury Tunnel and the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. There was, however, collaborative agreement between all of the analyses performed during this investigation that a substantial hydraulic connection did not exist between the Canterbury Tunnel and the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel under natural flow conditions near the time of this investigation.

Here’s the link to the full report.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.


Summitville superfund site: New water treatment plant dedication last Friday

September 12, 2011

summitvillemine.jpg

From The South Fork Tines:

“I want to thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for providing funding to complete the new water treatment plant at Summitville,” said Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This project provided more than a 100 construction jobs in this area, and significantly improved water quality, restoring fish and aquatic life to the Alamosa River and Terrace Reservoir,” he said…

In May 2009, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was awarded more than $16 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and construction of the 1600-gallon-per minute water treatment plant began on Sept. 14, 2009. The plant will remove contaminants from acidic metals-contaminated mine drainage before the water leaves the site and enters the headwaters of the Alamosa River, which flows into the Rio Grande. Funds from the act are paying 90 percent of this remedial action; the department is paying the remaining 10 percent.

Gold and silver mining began at Summitville around 1870. Large-scale, open-pit mining began at the site in 1984. The mine operator, Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc., used cyanide heap leaching to extract precious metals from the ore. In this process, ore excavated from the mountain was crushed and placed onto the clay- and synthetic-lined heap leach pad. A sodium cyanide solution was then applied to leach out gold and silver.

Almost immediately after the heap leach pad was constructed in 1986, a leak was detected. In December 1992, the company abandoned the site and announced it was filing for bankruptcy. EPA immediately assumed responsibility of the site as an emergency response, avoiding a significant environmental disaster. On May 31, 1994, Summitville was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

Since 1992, EPA and the department have conducted several interim projects designed to slow the amount of acid mine drainage coming from the site. These interim projects included: 1) detoxifying, capping and revegetating the heap leach pad; 2) removing waste rock piles and filling the mine pits; 3) plugging the adits or underground mine entrances; and 4) expanding the water runoff holding ponds and operating a water treatment plant on site. The new water plant, dedicated today, replaces one built several years ago.

More Summitville Mine superfund site coverage here and here.


Summitville Mine superfund site: Open house Wednesday for opening of new water treatment facility

August 27, 2011

summitvillemine.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

State environmental officials will host an open house Wednesday for the opening of a new water treatment facility at the Summitville Mine Superfund site

The open house will run from noon to 4 p.m. and include a grand-opening ceremony from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Site tours will be offered at noon and 2:30 p.m.

More Summitville coverage here and here.


Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter Corp, Inc. cited for spill at the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

August 19, 2011

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials charged with overseeing a Superfund cleanup at the site issued the notice of violation because Cotter’s operating permit requires properly functioning equipment. But because Cotter notified department officials as required, documented the problem and fixed the broken equipment, “no further enforcement actions are anticipated,” health department spokeswoman Jeannine Natterman said. The uranium-tainted water will not add to the contamination that in the past reached groundwater in neighborhoods near Cañon City, Natterman said. An underground clay barrier installed in the 1980s and the pumping system will contain toxic material, she said.

More coverage from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The accident happened when the lid to a vault containing pumps for the “pumpback” system was inadvertently left open overnight, causing the flange to freeze and rupture. The problem was discovered the next morning by Cotter personnel and corrected…

“This condition on the Cotter license is more strict than at any other uranium recovery facility and is not required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Colorado regulations,” Tarlton explained. Cotter employees maintain a pumpback system to capture contaminated groundwater and pump it back to the primary impoundment for evaporation. This system prevents groundwater contaminated by pre-1978 operations from further contaminating the neighboring Lincoln Park groundwater.

More nuclear coverage here here.


Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter, Corp. wants to stop testing inactive leaky and toxic impoundment pond

August 9, 2011

lincolnparksuperfund.jpg

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Rachel Alexander):

“As you are aware, the pool of water in the impoundment has diminished by evaporation to the extent that only the addition of base material has maintained the pool and consequently the head,” [Radiation Safety Officer Jim Cain] said in the letter. “In addition, introduction of base material to the pool has become inefficient and we have no means to improve the delivery.”

Steve Tarlton, of CDPHE, said the pH monitoring was necessary when the pond was in active use, but it is no longer operating. “Since they started dewatering the ponds, maintaining the pH is not critical,” he said. “The pH issue has gone away. We don’t want them to add water to the pond if they don’t have to. It makes sense to stop monitoring.”

CDPHE officials are looking at the monitoring issue in conjunction with the company’s dewatering plan and they expect to make a decision in the next few weeks.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Energy policy — nuclear: Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site cleanup focusing on groundwater pollution with an eye towards discontinuing pumping

August 6, 2011

cottercontamination.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A top priority, according to Mill Manager John Hamrick, is to move away from having to pump contaminated groundwater that slips past a failed treatment wall and is then moved back onto the mill property. The site is called the dam-to-ditch area which is located between an earthen dam and an irrigation ditch which divides the mill property from the Lincoln Park neighborhood. “We’re investigating the best way to clean it up so the goal will be to eventually quit pumping. It is a small area and the plume is small there but the concentrations (of uranium and molybdenum) have remained the same — they are just sitting there,” Hamrick said. On Monday, Cotter officials notified the state public health department that they have a plan to clean up the dam-to-ditch site…

Cotter officials also are delving into the presence of TCE in groundwater underneath the mill. TCE stands for trichloroethylene and it was first detected in October 2010. “We are investigating the nature and extent of the TCE groundwater plume. There are a couple of things that are puzzling about its presence and we are not even sure the contamination is ours,” Hamrick said. Cotter officials also seek to stop pH testing in the primary waste impoundment. State health officials have ordered Cotter to neutralize the pH level in the impoundment but that requires the injection of a liquid containing lime. “That is going against another order we have to dry out the impoundment,” Hamrick explained…

The tailings pond currently is used as a site to dispose of the old mill buildings that are being dismantled. Also, some old, leftover process liquids, such as kerosene, are being mixed with an absorbent and placed into the impoundment in a dry form, Hamrick said, so keeping the drying-out process going is difficult when liquid containing lime has to be injected into the impoundment.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Energy policy — nuclear: Cotter, Corp. wants to stop testing leaky and toxic impoundment pond

August 5, 2011

lincolnparksuperfund.jpg

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Cotter is in the process of dismantling its shuttered uranium mill, located south of the Arkansas River near Cañon City.

A makeshift row of wooden pallets leading into the viscous impoundment has sunk into muck, and “it is now unsafe to measure the pH of the pool,” Cotter’s environment coordinator, Jim Cain, said in a July 25 letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Cotter, a subsidiary of San Diego-based defense contractor General Atomics, also notified department regulators that the company will pursue a lower-cost, passive approach to investigating a recently discovered plume of the industrial solvent trichloroethene. According to Cotter documents, TCE was detected in groundwater at levels exceeding federal health limits and has spread to at least one off-site well.

Public health department officials on Wednesday still were considering Cotter’s request to suspend testing, “but it seems like a reasonable request,” department radiation control unit manager Steve Tarlton said. He also said Cotter’s proposed passive approach to investigating TCE contamination is “a good approach,” although future testing and remediation may be necessary.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 894 other followers

%d bloggers like this: