Thursday, June 08, 2006

Denver: Where the Streets are Paved with Radium

Underneath the roadways in parts of Denver are decaying slag piles of radioactive waste.

This is the story as told by the City.

In the early 1900s, Denver was an active radium-processing center.
Radium was used for medical, equipment and security efforts during World War I. The production process created huge amounts of waste materials called "tailings," which were left in piles near the processing plants.

In the 1920s, radium processing was discontinued in Denver due to overseas competition. The tailing piles were abandoned as the radium processors closed business.

Over the years some of these piles were moved around Denver and used as fill or in construction activities, including street construction. In the late 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) located the tailings and initiated a cleanup by identifying the tailings as a Superfund Site, including several Denver streets built using the materials.

Like our own little Chernobyl, the pavement keeps most of the radium tucked away, and it only occsionally contaminates ground water, soils, and seeps up into our homes in the form of cancer causing radon gas.

This map of the Superfund radioactive hazardous waste sites in and around Denver shows the hottest of the hotspots, but often we are just one road repair job away from having dumptrucks full of slag.

Over the past few years, the city piled up 350,000 tons of the junk in forty four heaps around the city and started putting it on a train to the US Ecology dump in Grandview, Idaho.

But this year, the Rocky Mountain Low Level Radioactive Waste Board has decided to put the breaks on the train. It has pulled the City's permit to ship the stuff out. With about 300,000 tons (aprox. 89,000 cubic yards) of the stuff still here, the plan is to plant it permanently in Adams County, giving the contracts to an East Coast firm doing business near the (appropriately named?) city of Last Chance.

The firm is 'Clean Harbors', and this is how the Denver Post covered the controversy.

The facility is the target of two lawsuits filed by Adams County. Adams County officials say the dump, owned by the Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., does not have a valid license to handle radioactive materials.

Clean Harbors officials, backed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, insist they have the required permits.

"Frankly, we don't want to find out who's right," said Assistant City Attorney Shaun Sullivan. "We want to take it to Idaho and be done with it."

Members of the Rocky Mountain Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact Board - which regulates low-level radioactive waste in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico - decided that Denver's request would deliver an undue economic blow to the Clean Harbors facility.

Company officials said they've already spent $3 million making sure the dump could receive Denver's radium waste and anticipated receiving $2.1 million for the transport and disposal of that material.

When the disposition of radioactive waste hinges on a governmental organization not wanting to cause an "undue economic blow" to a particular waste management company, I begin to wonder if there is something more going on.

I began looking into the story this week because I have been volunteering for Congressional Candidate Ed Perlmutter and I saw that his name appeared in a Commerce City Beacon article.

Ed Perlmutter, a Democratic candidate for the 7th Congressional District, told the board he opposed turning Last Chance into a “nuclear waste dump”.

He reminded the board that in 1998, Gov. Owens stated, “My position is clear, I am absolutely opposed to moving any level of radioactive nuclear waste to any site anywhere in rural Colorado.”

Perlmutter said, “We are here today because the governor did not keep his pledge and his administration, specifically Doug Benevento, the former director of the Colorado health department sought to turn the Deer Trail facility into a regional nuclear waste dump.”

Perlmutter told the board, “Owens and Benevento have been using the City and County of Denver as an excuse to do so and now Denver has said they aren’t looking to ship their radium waste to Adams County, but to Idaho.”

Perlmutter concluded, “I do not believe there was ever a compelling reason to turn Adams County into a nuclear waste dump – the people of Adams County don’t want it, the Adams County Commissioners don’t want it, and the people of the 7th District don’t want it.”

Wait a minute?!? The Owens appointee who set the deal with Clean Harbors was Doug Benevento? Where have I heard that name before?

Rocky Mountain News

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal campaign laws by allowing his name and title to appear on an invitation to a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Rick O'Donnell, the chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party alleged Friday.


The subject line of an invitation e-mailed last week on behalf of former state health department Director Doug Benevento invited potential donors to a "Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA Stephen L. Johnson for Rick O'Donnell."

The attached invitation was titled, "Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA."

Benevento hosted the lunch at his Denver law firm, Greenberg Traurig, where he has practiced law since resigning from his state job Dec. 30.

If Dirty O'Donnell is getting radioactive, you know I am going to follow this story deeper.
Maybe I should start calling him Dirty-bomb O'Donnell?


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