Claimjumper cleanup results unclear
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” The planned cleanup of polluted mine waste on the Forest Service-owned Claimjumper parcel and on adjacent private property near Breckenridge won’t guarantee that all health risks to nearby residents will be eliminated.
Moving about 6,000 to 8,000 tons of rock tainted with dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic will eliminate the most direct threats to children who might play on the waste piles close to the condos, or anyone else who might come in contact with the polluted rocks. The primary threat is through direct ingestion, according to the EPA.
But it’s not clear if there is other polluted rock and dirt that has been spread around the Forest Service parcel and adjacent private property that hasn’t even been identified or slated for removal, or what the potential health threats are from mine waste that will remain at the site after the cleanup.
The EPA is limited by its budget as to how thoroughly it can evaluate any remaining threats, said the EPA’s Rob Henneke. But the agency is confident that the proposed cleanup will address the most significant hazards.
The Claimjumper Condominium Association, while not unanimous, is also formally on record as supporting the plan.
“Some of that is yet to be determined,” said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Rick Newton. “We’re committed to cleaning up the piles closest to the condos … and we’ll adjust the project to meet what we find,” Newton said.
A 2006 EPA evaluation identified concentrations of lead as high as five percent in some of the piles, well above levels that trigger cleanups. A previous study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also pinpointed high levels of pollution.
Given that federal and state officials have known about the pollution for several years, some residents have asked why no warning signs or fences were put up at the property. Henneke said he didn’t know whether the EPA ” charged with protecting citizens from environmental threats ” had recommended such measures. The agency doesn’t commonly put up warning signs, although he said he was aware of a few cases when signs were used to alert the public to potential danger.
“We were concentrating on getting it removed … until two weeks ago, nobody suggested it,” said Newton.
“Those answers are not completely satisfactory to me,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “There are lessons to be learned from this,” Davidson said, explaining the public involvement process in the Claimjumper cleanup proposal left something to be desired.
“When those things don’t happen, I don’t fault the community for asking what’s going on,” Davidson said.
Claimjumper condo ssociation manager Paula Katsoulis said the association did put up some cautionary tape around at least some of the hazardous areas last summer after being alerted to the high lead and arsenic levels. Additionally, she said she has done some one-on-one outreach with condo tenants and renters to inform them of the potential hazard.
The Claimjumper condos consist of 34 units, some of them permanently occupied, while others are rented short-term. It’s also possible that other kids who live nearby, in Pinewood Village and the Kingdom trailer park across Airport Road, have also played on the piles, Katsoulis said.
The levels of lead in the Claimjumper mine waste piles are high enough that chronic exposure could result in elevated levels of lead in blood. Lead poisoning most often occurs from repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. There may not be obvious symptoms, but lead exposure can still cause serious health problems over time, such as difficulty sleeping or lowering IQ in children.
Lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains. The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be. Unborn children are the most vulnerable. Testing shows that many children have too much lead in their blood. Overall, about 1 in 20 preschoolers have high levels of lead in their blood. Any child can be affected. Generally, children living in cities or older houses are more likely to have high levels.
EPA toxicologist Susan Griffin suggested that, if there are children living near the Claimjumper who have played on the piles over the course of months or years, it might not be a bad idea to do some blood testing. The EPA could help with that effort if so requested by the county health department, she added.
Another potential health risk could come from any lead-tainted dust that is stirred up by the removal action, both at the Claimjumper site and along the proposed transport and storage site. EPA cleanup coordinator Steve Way said those potential hazards could be contained by best management practices during implementation of the project.
EPA officials also referred to a “health assessment” for the Claimjumper property that was still incomplete when the agency gained at least conditional approval to move ahead with the project.
That timing raised the cart-before-the-horse question: Why the assessment wasn’t completed before the project was proposed. At several public meetings, EPA officials said time is critical, since the funds budgeted for the Claimjumper cleanup could be lost at the end of the fiscal year. Normally, such evaluations are done before the cleanup plans are finalized, Griffin said.
“It’s typically done first,” she said. “It’s the rationale, the justification for what Steve (Way) does,” she added, describing the study as a relatively simple “endangerment assessment” that looks at the potential pathways for pollutants.
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