Final Cotter report released — The Pueblo Chieftain

October 1, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Federal public health representatives who studied health concerns for Lincoln Park Superfund site residents living near the Cotter Uranium Mill issued a final report last week. The 260-page report includes comments made by citizens following its initial 2010 release. Many of the comments from citizens indicated the report was confusing, so o’cials with the Agency on Toxic Substances and Disease Registry attempted to clarify some of the confusion.

The Cotter Uranium Mill processed yellowcake uranium from 1958 to 1987 before going into sporadic operations. The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984.

The health report concludes that drinking water for many years from a private well that contains elevated levels of molybdenum and uranium could harm people’s health. Although nearly all residents who have contaminated wells have been hooked up to the city water supply, some still use the wells to irrigate.

During 2008 testing, one of the seven wells exceeded the drinking water standard for molybdenum. The owner of that well declined to be connected to the municipal water system, according to the report.

“The groundwater remains contaminated and the contaminant plume can migrate to previously uncontaminated wells. Therefore, a future potential pathway also exists for other private wells until the contamination is cleaned up and no one is drinking contaminated well water,” according to the report.

The State Engineer’s Office is required to tell all well applicants who want to drill for water that there is potential contamination.

The report also concludes that accidentally ingesting or touching soil or sediment in the Lincoln Park community will not harm people’s health.

“However, there is not enough information for the agency to determine if exposures to lead will harm people’s health in residential communities immediately northwest of the Cotter Mill,” the report indicates.

Although soil north and west of the Cotter Mill is contaminated with high levels of lead, there were no elevated levels of lead in the blood of children and residents tested.

The report also concludes that a person eating an average amount of homegrown fruits and vegetables defined as approximately 1cups per day will not experience harmful health effects. However, people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, defined as approximately 5 cups per day from their Lincoln Park gardens over a long period of years, may be at risk from exposure to arsenic.

The agency, “was unable to determine the source of the arsenic found in the fruits and vegetables; it could originate from natural sources. The agency recommends that residents who have gardens wash their homegrown produce thoroughly before eating it,” according to the report.

Finally, the agency’s report concludes that, “Air emissions of particle bound radionuclides have not resulted in exposures to the public at levels known to cause adverse health outcomes. Outdoor radon concentrations will not harm people’s health.”

“With the exception of thorium-230 levels observed in 1981 and 1982 that were associated with excavation of contaminated tailings, every radionuclide monitored has been more than a factor of 10 below annual dosebased health limits to the public. The excavation releases appear to have only exposed onsite workers, but that exposure still was below occupational limits at that time,” according to the report.

To view the final report, go to http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/Lincoln%20Park/140922lincolnparkpublichealthassessment.pdf.

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

When rainstorms sent a surge of muddy debris down Sand Creek late this summer, people living near the defunct Cotter Uranium Mill were thinking, “Here we go again!”

A big 1965 flood washed radioactive sludge toward the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood, a foothill community near Cañon City where residents have horses and apples trees in their backyards. The plume of poisoned water spread underground. Fifty years later, there are still three wells in Lincoln Park where the uranium concentrations are above state standards set to protect human health.

This year’s late summer rainstorms gummed up critical pumps and pipes, part of a system built to prevent radioactive waste from escaping the polluted 2,600-acre Cotter property, which has been designated as a high priority federal Superfund cleanup site for the past quarter century.

The fact that a series of checks on dams and underground barriers showed they apparently worked the way they’re supposed to during the recent floods is small comfort to some Lincoln Park residents who worry about continued health risks and complain that state and federal regulators are still dragging their feet on the long-mandated cleanup.

“I realize the surface water is getting captured pretty well, but we’ve asked for better monitoring of groundwater, and we’ve been refused over and over again,” said Lincoln Park resident Sharyn Cunningham.

“We’ve asked them to do scientific studies to show there is no underground movement of water and they’ve refused numerous times,” she added, noting that uranium levels in the groundwater on the Cotter property are “horrendously high.”

In the wake of the most recent flooding, concerned locals say Cotter and the government officials tasked with overseeing the cleanup seemed to be defying a new state law that sets deadlines for inspections and reporting.

Kindergarten Rules

Cunningham and other residents want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to lean on the Cotter Corporation harder to accelerate the cleanup effort. The company is a Denver-based subsidiary of General Atomics, a corporation with lucrative federal nuclear contracts. Cotter owns or controls 15 uranium and vanadium mines in southwest Colorado with an estimated 100 million pounds of ore. Watchdogs say the company has plenty of money to pay for a cleanup, and that big corporations — especially ones with government contracts — ought to play by the same simple kindergarten rules that apply to the rest of us.

“You make a mess, you clean it up,” said Travis Stills, an environmental attorney representing Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste. At the Cotter site — which is so close to Cañon City and upstream from the Arkansas River — the best option would be to dig up most of the toxic radioactive waste and move it to a geologically stable and remote site where it would pose the least threat to people and the environment, watchdogs say.

The mill started producing uranium oxide, or yellowcake in 1958 as part of the Cold War nuclear arms buildup. The concentrated uranium powder is the raw material for fissionable nuclear fuel. According to Cunningham, who curates an extensive library of documents related to the site, some of the waste came from the Manhattan Project, America’s WWII atom bomb effort.

Up until 1980, Cotter dumped radioactive waste into unlined ponds. It wasn’t until 1988, 30 years after Cotter started operation, that the state required the company to build a groundwater barrier to trap tainted water and pump it back up into evaporation ponds on its property.

Along with uranium, toxic materials at the Cotter site include radium, polonium, thorium and heavy metals like mercury, molybdenum, thorium and radioactive lead. Intermittently, Cotter processed those materials with other toxic chemicals, including nitric acid and hydrochloric acid — all combining into a poisonous brew. Many of the pollutants are known to have human health impacts, including an increased cancer risk.

“It makes fracking fluid look good enough to drink,” Stills said.

In 2010, monitoring revealed a potential new threat — volatile organic compounds had started showing up in the site’s groundwater. Specifically, testing detected Trichloroethylene, a known cancer-causing chemical used mainly as an industrial solvent, suggesting the chemical may have been introduced to the water as Cotter dismantled some of the old facilities on the site.

An updated federal health assessment completed earlier this month details potential health risks linked with exposure to the toxic materials stored at Cotter. The report was published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and includes a detailed timeline of the decades-long, on-and-off efforts to decontaminate property.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment defends its work overseeing the cleanup, including diligent groundwater monitoring that shows the plume of contaminated groundwater beneath Lincoln Park has shrunk in recent years.

“We take our mission to protect public health and environment seriously,” said Warren Smith, the state’s liaison at the Cotter site. Smith said two inspections, on Aug. 25 and Sept. 23, showed no sign that contaminated water leaked off the property. Aside from the pumpback failure, he said the rest of the site’s containment system, including key dams, worked as intended during the recent floods.

“Cotter is required to report these incidents and they have been.”

Smith said there are three wells in Lincoln Park where the uranium concentration is above the state standard of 30 micrograms per liter. The concentrations in these wells are less than 40 micrograms per liter.

Snail-Paced Cleanup

Environmental concerns about the Cotter Mill are nothing new. The state started demanding a cleanup way back in 1983 by filing a complaint under the Superfund law, formally called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.

The Cotter Corporation challenged the move in court, setting the tone for decades of mistrust. Years of missteps and withheld information has done nothing to convince residents that the company is meeting its cleanup obligation, Stills said. This year’s breakdown of the pumpback system is just the latest in a long list of snafus at the mill site, including previous pipe failures 2010, 2012 and 2013.

“The same people have been making the same mistakes for decades,” said Stills, noting that the string of contaminated waste releases shows that state and federal oversight have been lax at best. As he sees it, Cotter has been gaming the system for 30 years, and that state health officials have played along.

“To me, it suggests consistent contempt by CDPHE staff for the community perspective,” Stills said.
The biggest concern is that the mill’s entire aging containment system could be vulnerable to catastrophic failure that could put thousands of people at risk. The site is about 1.5 miles north of Cañon City. The closest neighbor is a quarter-mile away. About 6,000 people live within about a two-mile radius of the mill, and about 20,000 people live within five miles.

About Time?

In July, Cotter Corporation, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and EPA signed a deal that spells out Cotter’s legal obligation to start working on a final cleanup plan. The agreement is a required step in the federal Superfund process. The public can comment on the proposed agreement until October 27 at Regulations.gov or in writing to by contacting EPA Enforcement Specialist Virginia Phillips.

“EPA is aware of recent incidents involving the pumpback system at the Cotter facility, including incidents related to flooding events and an occurrence of pipe damage which has since been repaired,” said Rich Mylott, a spokesman for the EPA, which will work with the CDPHE to investigate the pumpback system breakdown.

Cunningham and other residents are skeptical that the Cotter Corporation will do a thorough cleanup unless state and federal officials keep a close, diligent watch.

“The community doesn’t trust Cotter and CDPHE to do these things in private,” she said. “Two years ago, they promised us a roadmap toward cleanup, and we haven’t put one foot on that road yet.”

The Superfund cleanup deal may also have some loopholes.

Watchdogs want the state and feds to investigate what other companies besides Cotter may have contributed to contamination at the mine. That would help identify all the toxic materials at the site. They also want Cotter and government regulators to gather more detailed information on groundwater movement, including a tracer study, which involves adding a chemical marker to the water upstream, then monitoring when and where it appears downstream — a common way of tracking pollutants.

The EPA and the CDPHE are now on the same page on the Cotter cleanup so Cunningham is more hopeful that there will, someday, be a final resolution, said Cunningham, who lives less than a mile from the contaminated site.

Until then, she plans to keep watching the agencies closely. History has shown, she said, that somebody needs to keep watch and keep pressing for completion of the cleanup in the face of Cotter’s continued resistance and delays. Both Stills and Cunningham said they think the company has too much sway with regulators, who seem to be more responsive Cotter than to residents living near its mill’s mess.

“You just get up every day and do what you can,” Cunningham said. “This is a terribly contaminated site, and somebody has to make sure the authorities in charge are doing the right thing and are not just being influenced by Cotter.”

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


Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

July 21, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

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


2014 Colorado legislation: Cañon City residents are cautiously optimistic for results from SB14-192

May 2, 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):

Residents here are thankful for bipartisan legislation passed [by the Senate] Wednesday that will help clean up groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.’s uranium mill. The legislation will ensure that uranium mills clean up ongoing contamination of residents’ groundwater as expeditiously as possible, with the best available technology. The legislation will help give direction to the state health department as it oversees the cleanup, according to Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado.

Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of the Cotter Uranium Mill site have been hooked up to city water so they can avoid using wells that have been contaminated by uranium and molybdenum which seeped from the mill site.

The neighborhood and Cotter mill have been part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1984.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors, forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active cleanup of our wells, not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, a Lincoln Park resident who is co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

“After 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corp. to finally clean up its mess,” said Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado. “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Canon City has.”

Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are overseeing decommissioning and full cleanup now that the mill is closed.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More nuclear coverage here.


2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-192 passes the Senate #COleg

May 1, 2014
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

The Colorado Senate passed Senate Bill 192 on Tuesday, which concerns uranium licensing and groundwater protection, but causes conflict between Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill and Lincoln Park residents.

In a press release issued by Conservation Colorado representative Chris Arend, residents of Lincoln Park “expressed support for (the) bipartisan legislation … that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.”

“The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident said in the release.

John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said they have been in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said that is “now in jeopardy” because of SB 192, and a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process will have to be discarded, and they will now have “to go back to zero.”

“(Additionally), the State of Colorado is federally preempted from passing a law that requires the EPA to select a specific clean-up remedy,” Hamrick said.

In the release, Lincoln Park resident Pete Maysmith said SB 192 “will help clean-up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

“No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” Maysmith said.

Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:

Impacted residents and members of the Colorado conservation community expressed support for bipartisan legislation passed today that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corporation in Canon City, Colorado. Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Canon City had been told that the best way to deal with Cotter’s pollution was for the community to abandon use of their wells.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active clean up of our wells not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident. “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community.”

“Today after 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corporation to finally clean up its mess in Cañon City,” said Pete Maysmith. “No community should have to endure the long term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corporation. The legislation passed today will help clean up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

Although pleased that contaminated water would be cleaned-up, supporters expressed concern that the Colorado Senate stripped out licensing requirements that would protect against future contamination.

“We are disappointed in Colorado Senate amendments to remove important protections for experimental uranium milling proposed for our community,” said Cathe Meyrick, resident of the Tallahassee Area in Fremont County. “The legislation would have clarified that licensing is required before the industry deploys experimental uranium recovery techniques with potentially grave impacts on our groundwater. Regardless of this setback, we will rely on a committed community and look for other mechanisms to protect our groundwater.”

The proposed new technologies involve extraction through the creation of an underground uranium slurry (i.e., underground borehole mining) and concentration through physical, rather than chemical means (i.e., ablation). These new uranium recovery methods are being proposed for uranium deposits in Fremont County (Tallahassee Area/Arkansas River) and in Weld County (Centennial Project and Keota).

Both Conservation Colorado and impacted landowners in Fremont and Weld County will work to reinstate the provisions as the bill moves forward.

More nuclear coverage here.


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.


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