A news release about the contamination was distributed on Friday morning. This comes after the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District found perfluorinated compounds (commonly known as PFCs) in water samples from certain shallow groundwater wells. These chemicals are known to pose significant health risks if people are exposed to them – especially expectant mothers and young children.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and the Tri-County Health Department are working to find the source of the contamination.
However, health officials say the water distributed to the 50,000 customers in the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District is safe after three wells with the highest concentration of the PFC chemicals were shut down earlier this month. This means the district is taking 40 percent of its water supply from Denver rather than the usual 20 percent.
The concern now, according to South Adams County Water and Sanitation District Water Systems Manager Kipp Scott, are private wells and the people who use them – which is what prompted the advisory to the public in the first place.
“When we find something that is of a concern like this, we notify the health department,” Scott said. “The concern is, we are treating for that chemical here and removing it to levels below the health advisory, but the concern is with other people that maybe using wells that are not on our system and supplied water by our district.
Scott said some wells tested positive for PFCs in May. When that happened, they tested the treatment process – and results took five weeks to come back. Next came contact with the health department.
Brian Hlavacek, the director of environmental health at the Tri-County Health Department, issued a statement to 9NEWS that said:
“Tri-County Health Department is working closely with EPA, CDPHE and SACWSD to identify the extent and source of contamination. TCHD is working to identify private drinking water wells in the initial area of investigation in order to sample for PFC’s. Sampling could begin as early as next week as we identify any wells. Residents who receive their water from a private drinking water well, are near this area, and are concerned about PFC levels can call Tri-County Health Department at 303-288-6816 or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
After 27 years of EPA control, Colorado is preparing to take over the full financial burden — a forever bill for $2 million a year — of a high-mountain cyanide gold mine that became one of the West’s worst environmental disasters.
The re-shaping of ravaged alpine tundra at the Summitville Mine through a $250 million federal Superfund cleanup stands out because scores of other toxic mines in Colorado still are contaminating headwaters of western rivers each day.
But this fix requires constant work. Colorado must pay the $2 million, a bill that the EPA has been handling, starting in 2021 for cleaning a fluctuating flow of up to 2,100 gallons a minute of toxic water that drains down a once-pristine mountainside.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will use the money to run a silver-domed $18 million industrial water treatment plant built at 11,500 feet elevation in a wild and spectacular valley, surrounded by snow-splotched jagged peaks.
The plant houses huge stainless-steel vats of burbling brown sludge. Toxic metals are chemically coaxed and filtered out. Plant operators haul 4.1 million pounds a year of concentrated waste back up South Mountain (elevation 12,550 feet) in trucks for burial. This muck contains more than 690,000 pounds of cadmium, lead, copper, aluminum, iron, manganese and zinc. It is toxic metal that otherwise would flow down and degrade the Wightman Fork of the Alamosa River.
Colorado also must oversee the artificial covering and drainage ditches across 1,100 acres of tundra scarred by open-pit mining. Mountainsides ripped and slashed to remove gold and silver have been re-contoured by contractors using bulldozers, and re-planted with native vegetation — the engineering equivalent of plastic surgery to make the place look as good as possible…
The hand-off of responsibility for Summitville from the EPA to CDPHE in 2021 will mark a turning point in dealing with a severely damaged landscape using the nation’s Superfund system for handling disasters.
This project was set in motion before Congress in 1995 killed automatic funding for Superfund cleanups.
Complete restoration to a pre-existent state is considered impossible and the government aimed at best-possible repairs.
“That was what the EPA and the state worked to do: bring it back to a sustainable protected state. Once there is mining in an area, it has long-term impact,” said Fran Costanzi, an EPA official who managed the Summitville cleanup for four years. “We worked to bring water quality back and also the vegetation into a long-term stable state.”
An EPA spokesman issued a statement placing Summitville “among the more illustrious, or perhaps infamous, examples of the environmental damage a large mining operation can cause when resources for safely managing contamination sources disappear. The EPA’s initial response was an emergency situation in which the site was literally abandoned by the operator — in winter-time conditions — with a cyanide heap leach pad eroding into a headwaters stream.
“After years of work and investment, we’ve essentially reclaimed a watershed in one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Protecting those gains will continue to require our attention.”
The cleanup improved water quality to where fish can live in Terrace Reservoir, about five miles below the mine, and in the Alamosa River.
CDPHE officials now are required to monitor conditions.
The financial burden falls to Colorado because the Superfund process shifts responsibility to states after initial federal remediation. Colorado lawmakers have arranged to pay about $2 million a year by tapping revenue derived from fees paid at municipal and other landfills around the state…
At Summitville, Rio Grande County eventually will own the 1,100-acre site. State and county officials have been setting up placards conveying the history of mining in the area with an emphasis on environmental damage and evolving efforts to repair harm.
Extreme drought conditions, fire danger, and contaminated water in creeks: that’s the critical situation going on in the small town of Beulah.
On Tuesday, News 5 spoke with residents on how these conditions are impacting them. Gary Kyte, chair of Pine Drive Water District wants people in Beulah to know that the water flowing into their homes is safe. It’s coming from water tanks that have already been treated. However, people are under a critical usage policy because of just how dry it is. The town did get some rain last week, but all it did was make things worse.
Kyte said, “Evidently, that particular rain rained over the burn scar, the Junkins burn scar.”
It’s been almost two years, but Beulah is still feeling the effects of the 2016 Junkins Fire. Last week’s rain caused debris and ash from the burn scar to flow into creeks.
“We feel that it impacted our raw water intake.”
What the town needs now is another good rain, but not on the burn scar.
“It would flush or kind of scour out the creek bed and hopefully if it rains some more we could go back to treating water.”
Kyte says between the contamination and the low water levels in the creeks doing treatment right now wouldn’t be worth it.
“We’re entering into a critical drought state. We’re going to have to make water or we’re going to have to purchase water.”
The town is trying to hold on as long as possible by restricting water to residents. Households supplied by the Pine Drive Water District are allowed to use 60 gallons of water a day. Those using the Beulah Water Works District are allowed 80 gallons a day…
Kyte says he and the chair of the Beulah Water Works District have been speaking with Pueblo County’s emergency management staff. They are looking at various short and long-term options for assistance (such as hauling water) if conditions don’t improve.
Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
Geologic map of the Silverton Caldera showing the Animas River, Cement Creek and Mineral Creek, which outline the ring-shaped caldera. Much of the mineralization occurs in radial and graben faults. Credit: USGS/Church, von Guerard and Finger, 2007 (modified from Casadevall and Ohmoto, 1977).
Cement Creek photo via the @USGS Twitter feed
Cement Creek remains lined with orange sediment after the Gold King Mine spill. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the release of orange wastewater laced with heavy metals into Cement Creek on Aug. 5. The creek flows into the Animas River at Silverton, and eventually crosses into New Mexico and Utah
The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio
The Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary water-treatment facility at Gold King Mine, October 2015, via Steve Lewis/The Durango Herald.
The confluence of Cement Creek, at right, and the Animas River, left, as seen September 2015 in Silverton, Colo. This is where the plume of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine entered the Animas River. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)
Acid mind drainage Cement Creek watershed
Cement Creek August 8, 2015 — Bruce Finley via Twitter
Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River from the Coyote Gulch archives (11/21/2010)
Settling ponds used to precipitate iron oxide and other suspended materials at the Red and Bonita mine drainage near Gold King mine, shown Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Eric Vance/EPA)
Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.
FromThe Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The driver wasn’t severely injured, but about 9 cubic yards of waste sludge spilled into the creek.
The sludge is a byproduct of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency treatment plant that is cleaning up water draining from the inactive Gold King mine. The EPA has said the sludge is not hazardous.
Authorities say it doesn’t appear the truck spilled any fuel.
For 150 years, the North Clear Creek in Black Hawk, Colorado has been contaminated from historic mining. A new water treatment plant that came online in 2017 is removing 350lbs of heavy metals every day from the stream with the hopes of reestablishing a brown trout population. The facility uses Tuthill’s Blower Packages to aerate the water to remove the heavy metals more easily. Learn more about Tuthill’s products here: https://www.tuthillvacuumblower.com/i…
The facility was built and run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Transportation was integral to this project.
Damage to water supplies in reservoirs can be disruptive and cost millions in repairs down the line. To reduce that risk, Denver and its partners are spending $66 million for tree thinning and reforestation above critical watersheds.
Their work comes as a new report, by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, warns that wildfires spreading over the western United States already taint nearby streams with unhealthy sediments and organic materials, and may someday overwhelm municipal water supplies. It also comes as dry weather and high temperatures have sparked a spate of wildfires in the mountains, and as authorities brace for fires sparked by July 4 celebrations.
“A great number of drinking water utilities draw water from forested watersheds,” said Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, an associate professor at CU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. He is also the study’s lead author.
The study, funded by The Water Research Foundation and presented at CU last month, lists challenges posed by wildfires, including short- and long-term effects of the availability and quality of drinking-water sources used by major metropolitan areas such as Denver.
The report also points to possible solutions for utilities serving fire-prone regions and planning for worst-case scenarios. They include expanding water-shortage capacity, using pre-sedimentation basins and diversifying water sources.
“When these watersheds are impacted by wildfire, the impacts on source water quality can be severe, forcing utilities to respond in order to continue to provide safe drinking water to their customers,” Rosario-Ortiz said.
Colorado’s two largest cities say they are aware of the dangers and are pooling dollars and resources to ensure much of the Front Range’s drinking water is protected from the contamination spread by wildfires.
“Denver Water has seen not only a commitment financially but also a commitment in time and energy by us and our partners to keep our water safe,” said Christina Burri, Denver Water’s watershed scientist.
A 2010 agreement — among Denver Water, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service and aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires — will continue at least through 2021 at a cost of $66 million. The work includes thinning trees and restoring forest on more than 40,000 acres of watershed deemed critical to downstream water supplies, Burri said.
Those areas provide clean drinking water to more than 1.4 million residents in the Denver area, Burri said.
Protecting watersheds has become a top priority on the Front Range, according to Mike Myers, chief of the Colorado Springs Wildland Fire Team, as major wildfires have become almost year-round events.
“We’re doing a better job at mitigating these fires than before, but we’ve had to,” Myers said. “The fires now are just so much bigger and stronger than before.”
The CU researchers said recent wildfires have increased in size and duration, which creates concerns that existing treatment resources could eventually be crippled.
The 2012 High Park fire burned sections of the Cache la Poudre watershed, which serves northern Colorado communities, including Fort Collins.
That same year, the Waldo Canyon fire burned through Pike National Forest, temporarily jeopardizing water supplies for Colorado Springs. The blaze contaminated reservoirs and caused about $10 million in damage to a pipeline in the Northfield reservoir system.
Colorado Springs, however, was able to draw on two smaller reservoirs to provide safe drinking water for residents, Myers said. “We’ve worked hard to have a diverse group of reservoirs we can call on in emergencies, and in this case, it worked well,” he said.
While ecologists and land managers have studied wildfires extensively, the scope of post-wildfire effects on drinking water remains uncertain, researchers said. Data show that fires degrade surface water quality through erosion, ash deposits and increased sediment loads. Nutrient runoff — including nitrogen and phosphorus — can spur algal blooms, which can lead to environmental and health problems and force cities to cut water to residents.
The CU researchers simulated the effects of a medium-temperature wildfire, and the resulting materials were leached into tap water and treated using conventional processes.
The results showed the heated materials increased the turbidity of the water, a key measure of water quality, and responded poorly to chemical coagulants, leading to downstream filtration problems, the CU researchers said.
“Our work has shown that source waters impacted by wildfires can be difficult to treat, resulting in additional costs in the form of more chemical coagulants and the potential need for capital improvements,” Rosario-Ortiz said.
Forest management work helps to prevent soil from eroding and releasing sediment into streams, reservoirs and rivers, Denver Water’s Burri said.
Tree-thinning and other mitigation work around Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir paid off in 2002 during the Hayman fire, which scorched 138,114 acres. A key water source for the Denver area, Burri said, Cheesman’s water stayed relatively untainted by the fire.
“It shows that the work we do now,” she said, “can help much later.”
Human-caused Sardinas Canyon Fire growing slowly, disastrous Colorado fire near Ft. Garland blows up
Rather than being an unbroken block of flames, the Sardinas Canyon Fire is a patchwork, or “mosaic,” of different burn intensities; areas of the interior of the fire are largely unburned with only isolated heat spots.
Though the fire sent up a dramatic smoke plume over Taos last week and at times filled the valley with a hard-to-breathe haze, it has been a relatively easygoing fire. Unlike the Ute Park Fire, which had the potential to burn homes, businesses and infrastructure in Cimarron, Ute Park and Eagle Nest — all three communities evacuated for at least a couple days — the Sardinas Canyon Fire has threatened no structures.
Firefighters did install a sprinkler system to protect the La Junta Summer Homes at the intersection of Forest Roads 75 and 76, but those homes are about 2 miles from the perimeter of the fire, according to public information officers. Two archeological sites are being monitored and protected.
Furthermore, the Ute Park Fire was easy for firefighters to get to, meaning they attacked it more head-on with ground crews. That’s not the case for the fire in Taos County.
Firefighters are clearing debris from forest roads and old logging roads to create a fire line to contain the blaze. They’re also using bulldozers in areas where there are no roads.
The wildfire is currently within containment lines and will be allowed to burn up to them. Until then, it is not contained.
About 170 people are involved with the fire. Most of the upper management charged with keeping the fire in check are from national forests in Northern New Mexico, though some of the firefighters, helicopter pilots and hand crews are from as far away as Arizona, Montana and Oregon. The fire department with the village of Angel Fire has also helped out on the fire.
The law enforcement branch of the U.S. Forest Service is investigating the cause of the fire, but have said it was human caused.
The Carson National Forest is closed to the public. Only the Jicarilla Ranger District remains open, but under fire restrictions…
A far more worrisome wildfire [Spring Fire] is burning north of the New Mexico-Colorado state line.
The blaze started Wednesday (June 27) and has blown up, tearing through tens of thousands of acres of private, state and federal land in Costilla and Huefano counties. At least 104 homes have burned in Costilla County and potentially more in other counties, according to county and fire officials. The fire was more than 50,000 acres as of Monday (July 2) and had grown by nearly 30,000 acres as of Tuesday (July 3).
The fire is burning between Fort Garland and La Veta, primarily on private land, and evacuation centers are set up in Walsenburg and Fort Garland. A Type 2 incident management team (a level above the sort of team that’s handling the Sardinas fire) is in command of the blaze. La Veta Pass between Fort Garland and La Veta is closed to traffic.
Critical fire weather — hot temperatures, low relative humidity and erratic winds — have pushed the fire into new territory…
The Morris Creek Fire was reported Friday (June 29) on private land around the Philmont Scout Ranch in Colfax County. The fire has now spread onto the scout ranch, where crews have constructed fireline around the western edge of Carson Meadows. The fire was estimated to be about 400 acres as of Sunday (July 1) and over 1,000 as of Monday (July 2). No structures are threatened, according to Wendy Mason, a public affairs officer with State Forestry. The Philmont fire crews initially responded, and a Type 2 incident management team is taking over control of suppression efforts today (July 3). “Resources from multiple agencies are fighting this fire on the ground with additional support from aircraft,” according to a recent update…
This wildfire [Emily Fire] began Thursday (June 28) and as of Tuesday (July 3), the Gila Las Cruces Type 3 team had taken management of the fire. They are developing a plan to protect the Turkey Mountains Repeater Site, which houses five emergency communications towers as well as commercial facilities and major power transmission lines in the area. A total of 149 people are tackling the blaze, including five firefighting crews, one engine and two helicopters…
The Heron Fire started Thursday (June 28) afternoon in the Fort Heron Subdivision, where it was threatening about 30 structures. It was located off of State Road 95 and was estimated to be 10 acres. State Forestry and local firefighting crews continuing to mop up the fire and mitigate multiple hazard trees within the fire perimeter over the weekend. Approximately. It was completely contained as of Monday (July 2). The cause is under investigation.
San Antonio Fire (Valles Caldera National Preserve)
The lightning-caused fire grew to about 416 acres and was 75 percent contained as of Monday (July 1). There was no significant growth over the weekend. A local unit for the preserve is handling it. “It’s all burning internally, so there’s lots of trees and stumps smoldering,” said the preserve’s Kimberly DeVall.
Organ Fire (White Sands Missile Range, Doña Ana County)
The fire is estimated at 4,727 acres, including 194 acres of state land, and is 25 percent contained as of Saturday (June 30). The fire is burning on the White Sands Missile Range in Doña Ana County. It started June 24 off of State Road 70 near San Augustine Pass, 10 miles northeast of Las Cruces. It’s within reach of two archeological sites and the missile range.r
Blanco Fire (Kiowa National Grassland, Cibola National Forest)
The Blanco Fire has grown to 2,100 acres as of Monday (July 2). It is located approximately 5.5 miles west of Roy. It is roughly 75 percent contained. A Type 3 team, similar to the team handling the Sardinas Canyon Fire, is stationed on the Blanco Fire.
Local, state and federal officials told residents in the western Boulder County area served by the Sugarloaf Fire Protection District they will meet soon to create a plan for future testing, as needed, for perfluorinated compounds in area well water.
Those intentions were shared with about 50 homeowners in the Sugarloaf area who attended a Tuesday evening board meeting of the Sugarloaf district at its Station 2.
The session was attended by, in addition to the concerned residents, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Boulder County Public Health and the fire protection district.
Inquiries by homeowners, according to county health department spokeswoman Chana Goussetis, included questions about “type B” firefighting foam, which has been discussed as a potential cause of the well contamination; how to select a lab for testing of private well water; recommendations for reverse osmosis filters to make water safe; and future testing plans…
Representatives from all of the agencies will meet soon to create a plan, “which will include where additional sampling is needed,” Goussetis wrote in an email. “This will involve looking closely at the geology of the area to identify homes that most likely will be impacted.”
Well water at both Stations 1 and 2 have now been tested, and they each tested positive for perfluoroocatanaic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulphate (PFOS) at levels far exceeding the EPA’s advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
That prompted the district to test wells of 10 homeowners living within 1,300 feet of Station 1.
Sugarloaf volunteer John Winchester said that of those 10, six had no detectable PFCs, and the other four had “various” levels. He said specific data would not be released out of respect for homeowners’ privacy.
However, the Boulder County Health Department has said that only one of the 10 showed levels above the EPA advisory levels. That homeowner has not returned calls from the Camera seeking comment on the situation.
Goussetis on Wednesday reported that no other homeowners to date have been found to have wells showing contamination above the EPA advisory level. However, she added, there may be homeowners who had ordered tests whose results are not yet known.
Future testing, she said, “will likely” also include homes near Station 2, due to the levels of PFCs already detected there.
County health officials are recommending that mountain area residents test their well water not only for PFCs, but also for heavy metals, E. coli and other bacteria to fully understand the status of their water.
Meanwhile a report finds that PFCs are more toxic than originally thought. Here’s a report from Ellen Knickmeyer writing for The Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
The chemicals are called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl. They were used in such goods as fire-suppressing foam, nonstick pans, fast-food wrappers, and stain-resistant fabric and carpet, but are no longer used in U.S. manufacturing. Water sampling has found contamination in water around military bases, factories and other sites.
Exposure at high levels is linked to liver damage, developmental problems and some forms of cancer, among other risks.
A draft of the report, by the Department of Health and Human Services’ toxicology office, had set off alarms within the Trump administration earlier this year. A January email from a White House official, released under the Freedom of Information Act, referred to the findings as a “potential public relations nightmare.”
The draft went under months of government review before Wednesday’s publication, but the key finding — that the chemicals are dangerous at specific levels much lower than previously stated — was not changed.
The EPA, which scheduled a series of hearings on the chemicals, said last month that it would move toward formally declaring the two most common forms of PFAS as hazardous substances and make recommendations for groundwater cleanup, among other steps.
U.S. manufacturers agreed in 2006 to an EPA-crafted deal to stop using one of the most common forms of the chemical in consumer products.
The findings will likely lead state and local water systems with the contaminant to boost filtering.
“The more we test, the more we find,” Olga Naidenko, a science adviser to the Environmental Working Group nonprofit, said Wednesday.