This Is a Job for Superfund!

Colorado's legacy of contamination spreads far and wide.

About 80 percent of the time, the companies that contribute to the contamination of Superfund sites pay for their cleanup, according to Barry Levene, director of the Colorado unit in Superfund Region 8. The statistics are even better in Colorado, where the EPA has had to help pay for the cleanup of only three sites currently on the National Priorities List (NPL) -- Chemical Sales, Summitville and Denver Radium. The EPA does not have a current rundown of the costs of these projects, however. There are presently fifteen Superfund sites in Colorado:

Air Force Plant PJKS is located near Waterton Canyon on property owned by Lockheed Martin. It was built in 1956 to assemble and test missiles for the U.S. Department of Defense. Accidental spills and waste disposal left the soil and groundwater replete with rocket fuel, fuel oil and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The site was placed on the NPL in November 1989. The Air Force, Lockheed Martin and the Army Corps of Engineers are working on the cleanup; the EPA estimates completion in 2005.

Broderick Wood Products treated utility poles, fences, railroad ties and other wood products with pentachlorophenol (PCP) on its Adams County property from 1947 to 1981. In 1983, the EPA found PCP -- which, if ingested or inhaled, can cause organ damage, skin irritation and respiratory problems -- in the soil and groundwater on the 64-acre property; the site was added to the NPL a year later. Broderick Investment Company was ordered in 1990 to excavate the sludge, which was transferred to a reclamation facility in Alabama. In 1992, the EPA ordered the company and the Burlington Northern Railroad, which operated railroad shops on the property before 1947, to clean up the remaining waste, but they refused; the EPA eventually settled with the Broderick Investment Company and is still trying to recoup money from the railroad. Most of the contamination has been removed, but Broderick won't be taken off the NPL until groundwater standards are met, which could take several more years.

California Gulch, in Leadville, has been on the NPL since 1983. Mining in the eighteen-square-mile area left the Arkansas River polluted with lead and acid-mine drainage. A water-treatment plant has since been built there, and the mining companies responsible for the pollution agreed to help pay for the removal of contamination. The majority of the river cleanup is finished, but the EPA could be in Leadville removing waste from residential yards for another 24 years.

Clear Creek, which runs through Idaho Springs, Central City and into Golden, was contaminated with mine tailings and acidic water from the more than 1,000 mines in Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties; high levels of zinc and cadmium killed a lot of aquatic life in the creek, and lead and arsenic in the water pose health risks to humans. The 400-square-mile watershed was placed on the NPL in 1983, and while the worst of the pollution has been cleaned up, there is still a lot of work left. According to EPA estimates, the cleanup will be done in 2006.

Chemical Sales Company, located on a five-square-mile industrial area in northeast Denver, was placed on the NPL in 1988 after the EPA discovered that nearby groundwater was contaminated with organic materials from the company's chemical storage. Chemical Sales distributed industrial chemicals and detergents. Early studies showed that people drinking, cooking with or bathing in the sullied groundwater were at risk for cancer. The 400 residents who relied on private wells were provided water from the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, and the EPA removed leaky drums containing the contaminants. Most of the pollution has since been removed, but like the Broderick Wood Products site, Chemical Sales won't be taken off the NPL until groundwater standards are met.

Denver Radium Site actually includes 44 properties throughout the city that were contaminated and then abandoned in the late 1920s after the radium industry collapsed. Radium and its by-product, radon, can cause lung cancer. Most of the sites have been cleaned up since they were first added to the NPL in 1983, including the present location of the Home Depot at 500 South Santa Fe Drive. The last -- and probably the most well-known -- of these sites to be dealt with was the now-defunct Shattuck Chemical Company at 1805 South Bannock Street in Denver's Overland neighborhood, where residents pushed the EPA to remove, rather than simply cap, the radioactive waste. Cleanup is expected to be complete in 2004.

Eagle Mine, along the Eagle River near Vail, produced zinc in the late 1800s and early 1900s; high levels of zinc, arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead were left in the soil and water, and most of the fish died as a result. Drinking-water wells in nearby Minturn were also contaminated; a school and several homes are located near the largest tailings piles. The mine was placed on the NPL in 1986; since the cleanup was initiated, the fish population has increased, and the risks to human health have been eliminated; it should be finished this year.

Lincoln Park is a semi-rural community two miles south of Cañon City, where groundwater was contaminated with molybdenum and uranium from a nearby uranium mill. Although few in the area rely on wells for drinking water, most use the groundwater to irrigate their orchards and gardens and to feed their cattle. Prolonged exposure to molybdenum can cause gout in humans and can poison animals; uranium can cause kidney damage. Lincoln Park was added to the NPL in 1984; since then, residents have been given the option of connecting to the city's water supply, and a treatment wall has been constructed to remove the metals from the groundwater. According to the EPA, the completion date for this site's cleanup is unknown.

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