A broken pipe at a dismantled Colorado mill spilled 20,000 gallons of uranium waste just as the corporate owner is negotiating with state and federal authorities to clean up another 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings.
The Colorado mining and milling corporation Cotter Corp. is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to negotiate one of the nation's longest-running cleanups in history. The agencies are expected to help Cotter clean up, gather data, and figure out what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings.
They could remove the tailings, which would cost more than $895 million, or bury the waste.
In the meantime, a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system on Cotter’s 2,538-acre property in Canon City, broke and spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste.
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State officials say the spill was contained to Cotter’s property, but a Feb. 20 report shows groundwater uranium levels in the Canon City neighborhood of Lincoln Park “were the highest recorded for this location.”
"This isn't acceptable," Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill, which is Cotter's fourth since 2010. "[CDPHE] told us it is staying on Cotter's property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater."
In November, Cotter reported another spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons.
CDPHE lab analyst Jennifer Opila says Cotter’s system pumping toxic groundwater back so that it never leaves the site – posing no risk to public drinking water.
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A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, is pressing Cotter and the state for more facts about the spills and cleanup operations.
Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills says the public deserves to know more.
"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," Stills said. "This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.”