Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Jalil Isa):
Today, EPA issued the following statement and background information in response to a study released on December 20, 2010 by the Environmental Working Group:
“EPA absolutely has a drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes chromium-6 (also known as Hexavalent Chromium), and we require water systems to test for it. This standard is based on the best available science and is enforceable by law. Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA. The agency regularly re-evaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium-6, had already begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects. In September, we released a draft of that scientific review for public comment. When this human health assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information, including the Environmental Working Group’s study, to determine if a new standard needs to be set.”
Currently, the total chromium standard is 0.1 mg/L (100 parts per billion).
Our latest data shows no U.S. utilities are in violation of the standard.
The draft plan is available for review and public comment through Feb. 23. Informational presentations are scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Steamboat Springs City Council meeting and Jan. 20 at the Mount Werner Water board meeting. The public is welcome to attend these meetings and comment on the plan; written input and suggestions are encouraged.
Once the plan is approved by the [Colorado Water Conservation Board], the districts are eligible for state grants to fund the implementation of water saving programs and measures.
The laboratory site, one of three temporary labs at and around Steamboat Ski Area, is part of the Storm Peak Laboratory Cloud Property Validation Experiment, or Stormvex, a Department of Energy-funded project that brings atmospheric scientists such as Shupe from across the country to study liquid, mixed-phase and precipitating clouds. “Understanding clouds is an important part of climate,” Shupe said. “We want to characterize them, give them personality.”[…]
… the study has a larger purpose. Scientists want to understand the physical properties of clouds and their particles and how they fit into a larger global model. “Our ability to predict what’s going to happen in the future depends on our ability to understand the physics,” said Stephen Springston, an aerosol scientist from Long Island in New York. “It requires us to look at these things in great detail.” It began Nov. 15. Instruments outside the barn site, called the valley site, looked to the sky and began recording solar radiation, temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, light scattering and light absorption. A group of volunteers launches weather balloons with radio transmitters attached into the sky twice a day from the valley site, adding multiple angles to the wealth of data. A second site at the top of Christie Peak Express measures particle concentration, a specialty of Springston’s. A third at the top of the Thunderhead Express pointed lasers and radar into the sky to try to get a vertical profile of the clouds…
Because the Storm Peak Lab is often immersed in clouds, the scientists can validate the data found below with the actual data inside the clouds atop the mountain. “That’s what anchors this whole thing is this validation,” ARM Mobile Facility Site Manager Brad Orr said. “You can put it all together theoretically, but to actually validate that is so important.”
…in this depressed corner of western Colorado — one of the first places in the world that uranium, nuclear energy’s primary fuel, was ever dug from the ground in industrial scale — the debate is both simpler and more complicated. A proposal for a new mill to process uranium ore, which would lead to the opening of long-shuttered mines in Colorado and Utah, has brought global and local concerns into collision — jobs, health, class-consciousness and historical memory among them — in ways that suggest, if the pattern here holds, a bitter national debate to come.
Telluride, the rich ski town an hour away by car and a universe apart in terms of money and clout, has emerged as a main base of opposition to the proposed mill, called Piñon Ridge, which would be the first new uranium-processing facility in the United States in more than 25 years if it is approved by Colorado regulators next month…
Here in Naturita and the cluster of tiny communities in and around the Paradox Valley, where the mill could be built (cumulative population about 2,000), people disagree not just about the wisdom of the mill, but about whether uranium, laid down here in tufts of volcanic ash more than 100 million years ago, was a blessing or a curse. Minerals found in association with uranium, especially vanadium, which is used in hardening steel, sparked the first real rush in the 1930s; uranium for bombs and energy then followed in a stuttering pattern of boom and bust into the 1980s, when the nation’s nuclear energy program mostly went into mothballs.
Opponents say that the nostalgia many residents here cherish about the boom years is the product of willful forgetfulness about the well-documented cancer deaths and environmental destruction the uranium mines produced. They also say that the mill company is cynically exploiting the idea of a return to simpler times.
“They say it’s going to be different this time around,” said Craig Pirazzi, a carpenter who moved to the Naturita area from Telluride a few years ago and is now a member of the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association, which opposes the mill. “But our opposition to this proposal is based on the performance of historic uranium mining, because that’s all we have to go on — and that record is not good.”
Supporters, meanwhile, say that the opponents of Piñon Ridge are guilty of promulgating ignorant fears about something they do not understand.
Even the question of who has a right to speak up has become a point of contention. Is the mill purely a local concern in a sparsely populated area, or a broader regional issue that would affect people much farther away, through, say, radioactive dust particles that might be thrown aloft?
More coverage from The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The federal governments’ and utilities’ failure to encourage nuclear energy “just about requires us to look overseas (for funding),” Gary Steele, Energy Fuels’ vice president for investor relations, told The Denver Post. “You have to go where the market is. Just pick an Asian country.”
Energy Fuels has hired a Hong Kong agent to solicit bankers in China and elsewhere. “The product we provide is essentially totally fungible and can be used at any nuclear facility in the world,” said chief executive Steve Antony. “We’d like to see it used here in the United States.”[…]
Only one conventional uranium mill operates in the U.S., near Blanding, Utah, forcing nuclear power plants to import most of their fuel from abroad. Energy Fuels proposes to build its Piñon Ridge mill in Colorado’s Paradox Valley near Naturita, an agricultural area, drawing water from the Dolores River.
More coverage from The Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):
A new report estimates that the employment impact of the mill near Paradox, Colo., will be small and its socioeconomic impacts more bad than good. The report comes on the heels of another filing that asks the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to not approve the mill on the grounds that the company that plans to build it hasn’t prepared for less-than-perfect environmental scenarios. Those reports were prepared for a local environmental group, Sheep Mountain Alliance, which has stood in solid opposition to the idea of revitalizing the uranium industry in an area once famous for it. SMA and other opponents question its environmental impacts and aren’t sure the jobs created will be significant.
There is another side to the uranium story, though, and one that isn’t going quietly: That of those who grew up in the boom towns now busted. Those who say the mill should at least have a fighting chance. Those who say the economies need the opportunity. “I kind of feel that the articles that are coming out of the are pretty one-sided. We as an area know both sides,” said Naturita’s Tammy Sutherland, who lived in the little boom-town of Uravan. Her father and grandfather both worked for Union Carbide, the company that ran Uravan. That town has since been kneaded back into the earth itself, its buildings torn down and its radioactive history buried. Today, it isn’t much more than a fence and a sign warning the passerby of radioactivity…
…it’s that economic impact that a new study debates, and it could be smaller than anticipated, according to a consulting firm. According to the report, prepared by Missoula, Mont.-based Power Consulting, the local economic impact on the West End of Montrose County would be “quite modest.” The firm estimates that the mill would create only 116 jobs, “multiplier impacts” included. Other models predicted much more: 315 well-paying jobs according to Energy Fuels and 600 according to a Montrose-County commissioned study. Why is the Power estimate so small? “First, the rural West End does not have the commercial infrastructure to hold and circulate the spending associated with the mill, regional mines, and employee spending. Most of the expenditures will immediately leak out of the local economy to the larger trade centers such as Grand Junction in Mesa County,” it reads. The paper goes on to say that “none” of the uranium mining is likely to take place near the mill. “Energy Fuels will draw on its mines in Mesa and San Miguel counties in Colorado and Grand and San Juan Counties in Utah. The mining and haul jobs are unlikely to be primarily filled by residents of the Montrose West End,” it reads. The mill will provide about 85 jobs within its confines, according to estimates. The Power report claims it’s “unlikely” that a bulk of those jobs would go to currently unemployed workers in the West End.
“Impacts from oil shale development to water resources could result from disturbing the ground surface during the construction of roads and production facilities, withdrawing water from streams and aquifers for oil shale operations, underground mining and extraction, and discharging waste waters from oil shale operations,” states the GAO report, which was released in October.
The report was prepared at the request of the U.S. House Science Committee, according to Mark Gaffigan, the GAO director of natural resources and environment. “With oil shale, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Gaffigan said, especially as the technology needed to turn rock into oil is expensive and complicated…
“Oil shale development could have significant impacts on the quality and quantity of water resources, but the magnitude of these impacts is unknown because technologies are years from being commercially proven, the size of a future oil shale industry is uncertain, and knowledge of current water conditions and groundwater flow is limited,” the report found. “In the absence of effective mitigation measures, water resources could be impacted from ground disturbances caused by the construction of roads and production facilities, withdrawing water from streams and aquifers for oil shale production, underground mining and extraction; and discharging waters produced from or used in operations.”
It takes water to extract and process the oil shale, water to upgrade the oil shale so it can be transported to a refinery, water to reclaim mine sites, water to generate electricity for the extraction process, and water to meet the residential needs of a growing workforce in the oil shale industry. “Water for most of these activities is likely to come from nearby streams and rivers because it is more easily accessible and less costly to obtain than groundwater,” the report states. “Withdrawing water from streams and rivers would decrease flows downstream and could temporarily degrade downstream water quality by depositing sediment within the stream channels as flows decrease.” The White, Yampa, and Colorado rivers could all be affected by oil shale production, either by serving as the source for water or as the catch-all for polluted surface and ground water…
The GAO also found that ExxonMobil owns “conditional storage capacities of over 161,000 acre-feet on 17 proposed reservoirs in the area.” And if there is not enough water in the White and the Yampa, the Colorado River is just south of the Western Colorado’s oil shale epicenter. “At least one company has considered obtaining surface water from the even-more-distant Colorado River, about 30 to 50 miles to the south of the research, demonstration, and development leases where oil shale companies already hold considerable water rights,” the report states, noting that the costs of transporting and pumping water from the Colorado River would be higher than using water from the White and the Yampa rivers. And it says that some experts think the Green River could be a source of water for oil shale development in eastern Utah…
The GAO report recommends that the Department of Interior “establish comprehensive baseline conditions for water resources” in oil shale country, that it produce a model of groundwater movement in the region, and that it coordinate water research with the Department of Energy.
While the trace contaminants — called endocrine disruptors — have captured headlines in recent years, there are all sorts of other potential threats to water supply. Cholesterol tablets, birth control pills, mood enhancers and pain killers can be flushed in toilets or move through the human body without being fully used. Other toxins are washed off streets, fields or lawns into the waterways. No federal standards for these compounds in either drinking water or bottled water exist because tests have not been conclusive on how much of the chemicals would be harmful to people.
“The thing you’re at risk for in drinking water is bacteria, which could kill you or make you sick almost immediately,” [Don Colalancia, division manager for water treatment and quality at the Pueblo Board of Water Works] said. “They haven’t demonstrated that any of these (endocrine disruptors) are harmful, even over the long run. A tiny bit may not have much of an effect.”
Pueblo has the good fortune to be located below a large reservoir, which does much of the work of settling out harmful substances from its drinking water. “Lake Pueblo has a high-quality raw water supply,” Colalancia said. “A reservoir that supports a healthy population of fish and algae has a high quality of water. We have a healthy reservoir.”
Click through for Mr. Woodka’s profile of Mr. Colalancia.