State to deal with mine
Officials set next steps in cleanup
Sam Green/Cortez Journal
Because of the 16-day federal government shutdown, state officials are stepping up to address environmental and health concerns unearthed at the Red Arrow gold mining operation.
“We are pleased that these positive actions are being taken, and we want to thank DRMS for moving forward on remediation of the tailings piles,” said Mancos Town Administrator Andrea Phillips.
Late Wednesday, Oct. 16, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) officials announced the agency would make initial temporary waste stabilization plans at the Red Arrow milling facility on West Grand Avenue in Mancos. In addition, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has also been called in to determine next steps for assessing potential exposures from any contamination related to the mine and the milling operation.
“Although health risks from the site are believed to be very low, it is comforting that the state’s health department expert toxicologist is reviewing the sampling report to weigh in,” Phillips said.
The Environmental Protection Agency was slated to stabilize the contaminated milling site, but the government shutdown slashed the agency’s workforce by more than 90 percent. After 16 days, Congress voted late Wednesday night to fund the federal government through January.
“Long-term remediation plans will be coordinated with EPA when the government shutdown ends,” said DRMS director Loretta Pineda earlier Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Scheduled to start Oct. 28, DRMS temporary waste stabilization plans call for excavating the milling wastes located behind the industrial buildings on West Grand Avenue and two off-site locations, and placing those materials into a single stockpile to be located behind the buildings. The ground surface will be excavated to a depth of 2 feet below existing ground level to ensure all of the tailings are recovered. Excavated areas will be backfilled with clean material. The stockpiled tailings will be capped with a watertight PVC cover to isolate the materials from the weather over the winter months. Best management practices for sediment control measures will be used around the perimeter of the industrial area.
“These steps will serve to secure the mill wastes in a single location, isolate them from the environment so that any contaminates do not migrate from the site and prevent sediment discharge from the milling site,” Pineda said.
Funding for the temporary work is made available by state mineral severance taxes.
State public-health officials are reviewing the preliminary Walters Environmental report and will develop a health consultation report under the cooperative agreement funding from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. This health consultation report will help identify gaps in current data to better assess what risks resulted from those exposures. “For these types of questions, CDPHE utilizes toxicologists and risk assessors that are housed in the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at CDPHE,” Pineda said.
The Walters report was preliminary, and is considered a phase one investigation. A state Department of Public Health and Environment screening-level risk analysis performed in a health consultation report includes looking at past, present and future exposures. The difficulty identified by state health department will be assessing the past exposure risk because of limited information or data on the milling operations.
“Once the mill site is secured for the winter, exposure to on-site mill wastes is controlled, as long as people do not enter the site,” Pineda said.
The aim of a health consultation is to find out if people are being exposed to hazardous substances and, if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped. A health consultation is not the same thing as a medical exam, or a community health study. It can sometimes lead to those things, as well as to other public-health activities.
Red Arrow Gold Corporation continues to be in violation of numerous state regulations. A hearing is set in November to revoke the Red Arrow permit and forfeit the bond. Neither mining nor milling operations are continuing.
Mine operator Craig Luikko was issued a cease-and-desist order over the summer, and emergency response efforts to sample the site were conducted. Sampling of the site revealed higher than acceptable levels of arsenic in the naturally occurring form of arsenal pyrite in tailings piles outside the building and mercury, which was used by the operator in extracting gold from the ore, inside the building. The milling site has been placed in lock down.
Once the mill site is secured for winter and the off-site waste areas reclaimed, state mining officials believe the sites do not present a threat to public health or safety. The mine itself some nine miles northeast of Mancos is gated, locked and secured for winter.