Cotter Corp. Uranium mill officials say a leak that dumped about 7,200 gallons of contaminated water on the mill property was caused by a rock that punctured a hole in a feeder line.
The feeder line connects to the main pumpback pipeline above a Soil Conservation Service dam that helps prevent rainwater runoff from leaving the mill site. The pipeline carries contaminated water that seeps past the earthen dam and returns it to an impoundment.
“When Cotter personnel excavated the area of the leak, a large rock was discovered above the feeder line. The rock had punctured the pipe, causing the leak,” said Stephen Cohen, Cotter Mill manager.
“Because the puncture and associated crack were small, only a relatively minor percentage of the total actually leaked. Most of the flow continued into the pumpback pipeline,” he explained.
Cotter maintains a pressure monitoring system on the pumpback pipeline that deactivates pumps in the event of a sudden, large pressure drop. However, the feeder is isolated from the main pressure monitoring system, Cohen said. The leak could have occurred on Saturday and continued for 48 hours until workers discovered it on Monday.
It is believed that none of the contaminated water seeped off the mill site, according to Warren Smith, a state health department spokesman.
Cotter officials are replacing the broken section of pipe and the feeder line should be reactivated today, Cohen said. The main pumpback system continues to operate, Smith said.
Because leaks formed in the main pipeline on two separate occasions late last year, Cotter and state health officials are working to finalize a proposal to build a new pipeline.
“Cotter’s original plan does not include replacing any feeder lines. Because this line has broken, however, company (officials) plan to replace this entire section of feeder line when they replace the main pipeline,” Smith said.
Federal and state health officials also are working with Cotter representatives to come up with a plan to clean up and decommission the now-defunct uranium mill site.
FromThe Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):
Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.
McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”
However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.
“This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.
Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.
“It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”
However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.
“The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.
“We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”
Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.
“I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.
And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:
“I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”
“This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.
McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”
McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.
“With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.
She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.
State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.
“A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.
Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.
“Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.
While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.
“We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.
“That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”
“This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.
Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.
“Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.
She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.
“I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.
McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.
And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.
“This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.
While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.
“I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.
Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.
Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.
After two recent breaks in the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s pumpback pipeline which returns contaminated water to an impoundment, officials on Friday outlined a plan to replace 3,500 feet of the pipeline.
Cotter officials reported two leaks occurring at the end of November and in early December in a pipeline that captures contaminated water that seeps past an earthen dam on Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. It appears that both times the leaks were contained to Cotter property, according to Warren Smith of the Colorado Department of Public Health.
The Cotter Corp. reported a water spill at their site [November 26, 2015] to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDPHE said.
“(Cotter) discovered a spill of approximately 1,800 gallons of water at the pumpback line immediately upstream of the SCS dam on Cotter property,” a CDPHE email states. “They believe that the spill occurred overnight or early that morning. All water was drained back to the sump and no standing water was left on the ground. The leak has been repaired and the pumps have been turned back on.”
The CDPHE stated this incident is currently under investigation, but they believe water did not go beyond the property.
“A multi-part containment system keeps surface water and groundwater on Cotter property from entering Lincoln Park,” the email stated. “System features include a compacted clay barrier extending to non-porous shale on the upstream side of the Soil Conservation Service Dam, a water collection pipe and three pumps. An underground cutoff wall downstream adds another layer of protection.”
Meanwhile there was another spill yesterday, December 3, 2015. Here’s a report from Sarah Rose writing for The Canon City Daily Record. Here’s an excerpt:
Thursday morning Cotter employees discovered that the pumping system shut down, CDPHE said.
“Cotter personnel then inspected the SCS pumpback line and found the location of the break,” a CDPHE email stated. “Based on the amount of time between the morning inspection and observing the 10 a.m. shutdown, Cotter estimates that approximately 500 gallons of water leaked from the pipe line. Leaked water flowed approximately 20 feet, ponded in a slight depression and infiltrated into the soil. It appears that the water stayed on Cotter property.”
State and federal health officials are inviting the public to submit informal preliminary comments on the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s Draft Quality Management Plan.
The 53-page plan outlines quality assurance, training, implementation of work, record keeping, response and corrective action protocols for the now-defunct mill as it moves toward decommissioning. The mill has been an EPA Superfund site since 1984 due to the seeping of uranium and molybdenum contamination into groundwater and soil which was caused by the use of unlined tailings ponds.
Benefits for workers sickened by Cañon City’s atomic legacy will be outlined at a federal Department of Labor town hall Wednesday morning.
The department oversees a program designed to compensate nuclear workers for cancer and other maladies associated with mining, hauling and processing uranium. Over the years, dozens of workers at Cañon City’s Cotter Mill have claimed their illnesses were caused by exposure to uranium and other toxic substances.
Now, the federal government wants to make sure sick workers get paid.
“The goal of the meeting is to make current and former nuclear weapons workers living in Colorado aware of the program and to assist them in finding information to determine eligibility for available compensation and medical benefits,” the Labor Department said in a news release.
Miners hit massive uranium deposits along the Front Range in the 1950s and the mill in Cañon City was built to process it into “yellow cake” – uranium oxide – which can be refined into fuel for reactors and weapons parts.
Processing uranium, though, left the mill in Cañon City marred by toxic leach fields and tailing ponds that were later deemed to be a federal Superfund cleanup site.
The leaching left water contaminated with heavy metals and solvents in unlined storage ponds that continue to drive worries over groundwater contamination.
The site, under supervision from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, has been at the center of a controversy over how to clean up the damage.
A settlement agreement reached over the summer says Cotter will pay for continued cleanup under state supervision.
Taking care of workers falls under the Labor Department, which has administered health care and compensation for nuclear workers since Congress in 1990 approved the Radiation Exposure Act.
The act offers lump-sum payments and health care coverage for those sickened by radiation work that fell under the federal Department of Energy.
In recent years, Labor Department experts have held regular meetings in Cañon City to advise workers on the payments.