Officials tell residents mine poses no risk

Participants in Mancos town hall meeting question health effects mercury might have caused

A technician tests for  mercury vapor in October. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

A technician tests for mercury vapor in October.

Representatives from state and federal agencies informed residents at a Mancos town hall meeting Tuesday that the mercury and arsenic contamination at the Red Arrow Mill has been contained and no major immediate health risks exist.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety have spent the past few months consolidating and safely storing soil and liquids that were or may have been contaminated by mercury and arsenic.

“No longer is this mercury or arsenic contributing to a health effect,” said Richard Graham, an EPA toxicologist.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report released Monday, Dec. 9, there are no elevated concentrations of mercury vapor; three soil samples had above-average or excessive mercury levels; and nearly a quarter of soil samples exceeded arsenic levels.

“The results of air monitoring indicated no elevated concentrations of mercury vapor present escaping from the units of the storage facility to the west of the site or the septic system on the site,” wrote project leader Elliott Petri of Weston Solutions Inc.

Weston Solutions is an EPA-designated superfund technical assessment and response team.

The soil and tailings stored at the mill site on Grand Avenue in Mancos will not be moved until it can be determined if one of the businesses involved in the mill can be made to pay for further cleanup efforts.

In the spring, the tailings may be moved to the Red Arrow Mine site and stored in a specialized container that will prevent leaching of the harmful heavy metals, Steve Renner, a representative of DRMS said. The tailings could also be stored at a hazardous waste-landfill in a container that would also prevent further pollution, he said.

Residents at the meeting expressed concerns for the future of the site and health effects that the mercury may have had on the community before the mill was shut down.

Town Trustee Queenie Barz expressed frustration that the tailings had to be left at the milling site because it creates an eye sore and makes the property unusable to the owner, Boyd Sanders

“I think the residents deserve better, I think Mr. Sanders deserves better,” she said.

Several residents questioned the health effects that the mercury might have had on residents in the area and the workers before the mine was shut down.

The on-scene coordinator for the EPA, Craig Meyers, said it would be very hard to make conclusive statements on the health affects the mercury or arsenic might have had while the mine was operating. But based on the current levels of the metal, the impact on area residents should have been very minor.

Tom Simmons, a representative of the state, will be working on another report on the health effects of the mercury and arsenic pollution. This report will be similar to a peer review of the work DRMS and the EPA have already done.

Mary Shinn can be reached at mshinn@cortezjournal.com or on twitter @maryshinn.