Lincoln Park Superfund annual meeting set for Thursday — The Cañon City Daily Record

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

From The Cañon City Daily Record:

The EPA Annual Meeting reporting on activities at the Superfund site will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Abbots Room, Abbey Conference Center. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Environmental Protection Agency officials will be present as well as representatives of Colorado Legacy Land to answer questions and take comments from Fremont County residents. The Lincoln Park neighborhood and the site of the former Cotter uranium mill south of Cañon City were declared a Superfund site in 1984 due to the widespread groundwater and soils contamination from the operation of the mill.

The September meeting of the Community Advisory Group for the Lincoln Park Cotter Superfund site was held Sept. 19 at the Garden Park Room.

Updates on early cleanup actions included the TCE (trichloroethylene) plume near the Shadow Hills Golf Club. The Work Plan was approved in July 2019 by the agencies. Testing of all the soil borings is complete and installation of monitoring wells began Sept. 26.

The Soil Excavation Evaporation Pond Construction Plan is out for comment. This plan is proposed to speed the dewatering of the radioactive tailings located at the former Cotter mill site. The CDPHE and EPA, as well as the community, have an opportunity to review the plan. The deadline for comments is 5 p.m. Oct. 15 to Dustin McNeil at dustin.mcneil@state.co.us. A link to the work plan and other documents is available at: https://sites.google.com/state.co.us/cotter-uranium-mill/documents-available-for-public-review-and-comment.

Emily Tracy, chairperson of the Community Advisory Group, states “Now that early actions toward the cleanup of the Lincoln Park Site are moving forward under the ownership of Colorado Legacy Land, the community will be able to have critical input in the process. At the meeting, you will be able to ask why these actions are being taken and how the physical action of removal, moving soils, pumping water from the primary impoundment will move the cleanup toward the Remedial Investigation of the site. That is the next step in the EPA CERCLA process which may be proposed as early as next year.”

Tracy continued: “It should be remembered that 5-6 million tons of toxic materials sit in the 157-acre impoundment ponds. According to past estimates, 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water and 1.5 million tons of contaminated soils sit waiting for cleanup, and still threaten our community if anything goes wrong.”

“If a Lincoln Park resident has a well, they are advised not to use it because of contamination from the uranium mill. Wouldn’t it be great to have the use of that water?” asks CAG member Sharyn Cunningham, who had to stop using her wells many years ago. “If there is any hope for cleaning up our Lincoln Park wells, we all need to make sure it is done and done right!”

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site cleanup update

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Canoñ City Daily Record (Sara Knuth):

The Denver-based Colorado Legacy Land, which has been in negotiations with Cotter since July, received a conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Nov. 8 to take over the defunct uranium mill’s radioactive materials license.

But the company still has a few more obstacles to cross before the deal is final.

During a Community Advisory Group meeting Thursday, Paul Newman of Colorado Legacy Land said the company is waiting for approvals from the state.

Colorado Legacy Land, which is part of environmental cleanup companies Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco, also is seeking to take over Cotter’s

Schwartzwalder Mine via Division of Reclamation and MIning
Mine near Golden. The project, included in the same transaction as the Cañon City site, still needs a mine permit transfer from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“The DRMS is taking a bit more time in their evaluation and approval of that transfer,” Newman said. “Hopefully, we can get that resolved and that one transferred here shortly.”

The company also met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency attorneys to get assigned an administrative order on consent. That process also is still pending.

But if all goes according to plan, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land hopes to close the deal by the middle of December. From there, the company would “come in where Cotter left off,” Newman said. “So, we have the whole clean-up process in front of us.”

The first major step toward cleanup, he said, would be working through a remedial investigation, a deep look into how far the contamination goes.

Cotter, which opened the Cañon City site in 1958 to process uranium for weapons and fuel, was found in the 1980s to have contaminated nearby wells. It was placed on the U.S. list of Superfund sites, putting Cotter in charge of cleanup efforts. In 2011, Cotter decided to put a halt to uranium production altogether.

Newman, the executive vice president of Legacy Land Stewardship, said Cotter approached Alexco — a company that has been working on the Schwartzwalder Mine for four years — to step in. Colorado Legacy Land was formed by Alexco and Legacy Land Stewardship specifically to take over the cleanup process.

If the state approves the final requirements, the company will own the land. Additionally, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land is planning to open offices in Cañon City.

As part of requirements outlined in the CDPHE’s conditional license approval, Colorado Legacy Land will need to inform the department of the closing date in writing.

Public information meeting for Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site, April 20, 2017

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):

Cañon City community members will meet again with Cotter Corp. on Thursday to hear about the former uranium mining company’s pilot groundwater cleanup project.

Cotter hopes the project will reduce uranium and molybdenum contaminates to safe levels, but so far, community members have had mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the program.

Doni Angell, a member of the Lincoln Park Community Advisory Group that hosts the meetings and frequently comments on Cotter projects, said the proposed project, known as the Organic Bioreactor Work Plan, will only create a more concentrated toxic environment…

The project proposes an organic method using wet hardwood mulch to remove contaminates from the groundwater, rather than synthetic chemicals that most uranium mills use. The mulch, Cotter believes, would remove oxygen from water flow areas, causing the uranium to separate from the water. Because the water is migrating down slope through the mulch, Cotter anticipates successful contamination reduction using the natural aquifer as opposed to a mechanically propelled system.

“This is the simpler solution based on our tests, and sometimes the simple solution is the better solution,” Cotter project manager Steve Cohen said, adding that capital costs for this type of project are much lower than synthetic chemical-based ones.

Community Advisory Group member Carol Dunn said she does not know enough about the details of the project to make an assessment.

She said her hope going into Thursday relies on the relationship the community has developed with Cotter – a unique aspect of the Cotter/Lincoln Park site in relation to other Superfund sites where the responsible party is usually no longer present…

The project is in the informal public comment period, which was extended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from April 21 to May 7 last week after a request from the Community Advisory Group. The EPA and CDPHE – which oversees activities at the site because of its designation as a Superfund site in 1984 – are reviewing the details of the project and will provide comments following the May 7 comment deadline.

At that time, the agencies will also evaluate comments received from other agencies and the public, include the Community Advisory Group…

The original groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park community was caused by the discharging of the uranium tailings into unlined tailing ponds. The ponds were closed in the early 1980s when the EPA listed the area as a Superfund site, and the waste was excavated and put into new lined ponds. The new ponds cut off most of the groundwater contamination, and, since then, the EPA has since declared the contaminated ground water status as “under control.”

The EPA is currently administering its 5-year review of the site to ensure that the site decision remedies are continuing to protect human health and the surrounding environment. The Community Advisory Group also has contributed to that project, providing the EPA with people to interview in the community about the impacts, or lack thereof, of the remaining contamination.

(The Community Advisory Group meeting will take place on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Abbots Room at the Abbey Events Complex, 2951 East U.S. Highway 50. The meeting is open to the public.)

Cotter Mill spill

Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado Department of Public Health officials on Friday received a report of a spill that occurred at the Cotter Crop. Uranium Mill south of here.

Steve Cohen, Cotter manager, reported the spill occurred just before 8:30 a.m. as Cotter workers were trying to drain a section of pipes that connect the new and the old pipeline. A new pipeline is being installed to prevent contaminated water escaping the site.

About 5,200 gallons of water was spilled, all of which was contained within the trench and Cotter workers were able to recover most of the spilled water using a water truck, said Warren Smith, health department spokesman.

From Canon City Daily Record (Kara Mason):

It’s unclear how much “slightly contaminated” water seeped into the ground or will evaporate, but Steve Cohen, Cotter’s plant manager estimates around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons were picked up with the truck.

The spill happened when Cotter workers were attempting to drain a section of pipe where the old pipe and the new replaced pipe connect. A brittle or cracked valve is to blame, Cohen said. “Basically when the workers touched the valve it blew.”

The valve will be replaced, Cohen added.

The water was contained in the trench where pipeline construction has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks. Now, the water will return to the impoundment pond on Cotter property.

Cotter is replacing the pipeline after several leaks the last couple of years. Last August, Cotter reported a 7,000-gallon leak, which occurred over the course of 48 hours. That leak was the result of a hairline fracture in the pipleline — which is now being replaced on site.

Despite the most recent spill, Cohen said the pipeline replacement is still on track to finish the final week of March.

Cotter is required by Colorado law to report spills to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which posts the information on its website. CDPHE is expecting a report on the spill next week.

@EPA: “…abolishing the agency…I personally think it’s a good idea” — Myron Ebell

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The man who led transition efforts for President Trump at the EPA said the administration’s proposed budget signals a commitment to abolish the agency.

But Myron Ebell, a Colorado College graduate and an outspoken climate change skeptic who leads energy and environment policy at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it is not an overnight effort.

The administration’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal released Thursday charts a course that could lead to the end of the federal environmental agency, Ebell said, speaking to a conservative group at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver on Thursday.

Ebell had proposed Trump make a 10 percent cut to the EPA in his first budget request. The proposal unveiled Thursday would cut the agency by significantly more, up to 31 percent. It represents about a $2.6 billion cut to the agency’s relatively small, when compared to other federal agencies, $8.2 billion budget.

The cuts would result in about 3,200 employees being laid off in the initial wave, which could include many regional staff. Denver is home to Region 8 headquarters, a multi-state jurisdiction that covers much of the Intermountain West, which employs about 500 people.

“I think there’s a serious commitment here to draining the swamp,” Ebell, calling upon a popular Trump campaign mantra, said to applause.

The preliminary budget request would eliminate as much as a fifth of the agency’s workforce, which stands at around 15,000. More than 50 programs would be eliminated, including energy grants that help to fight air pollution. Scientific research would also face massive cuts.

Environmental interests had feared Trump’s budget proposal would start to chip away at the EPA, ultimately leading to closure. News of the preliminary budget sent many into a tailspin, as it potentially signals a much faster outcome.

Trump also proposed a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department and a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy.

“The president’s budget is a moral document, and President Trump has shown us exactly where he stands. These unprecedented cuts will hamper the ability of our park rangers, scientists, those who enforce the law against polluters, and other Coloradans from doing their important work,” said Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado.

“This is not just cutting the fat, this is a complete butchering of programs and jobs that are critical to Colorado.”

The move leaves specific uncertainty in Colorado, where the EPA has promised to cleanup toxic leaking mines that are spilling into the Animas River in Durango. The Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 was triggered by an EPA engineering error, causing about 3 million gallons of mustard yellow sludge to pour into the river.

In the aftermath of the spill, the EPA declared the area a Superfund site, which allows it to spend significant resources to implement a long-term water quality cleanup effort. Some worry those efforts would be diminished by reductions at the EPA.

But Ebell said a pushback to the EPA’s “regulatory rampage” does not mean that environmental controls would go away. He said regulations would still be enforced – especially on the state level – including around Superfund sites and clean drinking water.

“The question is, why do we need 15,000 people working for the EPA?” asked Ebell. “I understand why we need some … Maybe abolishing the agency is something that President Trump … would want to have a discussion about … I personally think it’s a good idea.”

Busting up the EPA is not a good idea, Myron.

Rock cracked Cotter pipeline; contaminants contained at mill site — The Pueblo Chieftain

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):

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.

Has the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill groundwater reached Pueblo Reservoir?

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 (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.”

More From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

“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.

Here’s a community newsletter about the issue.

And here’s a presentation made today by the citizen group.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Replacement pipeline in the works

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:

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 now-defunct mill is undergoing the decommissioning process as health officials decide how best to safely retire the site. The pipeline proposal can be seen at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.

The importance of designing industrial locations for spill containment, they will happen

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

From The Canon City Daily Record (Sarah Rose):

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.”

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update: Comments sought for decommission plan

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Public comment is being sought on a Quality Assurance Project Plan designed to help health officials oversee decommissioning of the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill.

The plan establishes the requirements for environmental data collection. It can be viewed at recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm

State health officials will be accepting informal public comments until Nov. 13. Submit comments to Jennifer Opila at jennifer.opila@state.co.us.

Comments on new Cotter Mill plan due August 1

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):

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.

The draft plan can be viewed on the state’s Cotter website at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.

Comments can be sent to state health department project manager Jennifer Opila at Jennifer.opila@state.co.us. Deadline is Aug. 1.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here.

Former Cotter Mill employees to get compensation for job-related illnesses

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

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.

More nuclear coverage here.

Final Cotter report released — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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

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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’

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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’

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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

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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?’

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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

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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

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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.