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Uranium mill cited for new contamination Print

By R. Scott Rappold, The Gazette
Rocky Mountain News
August 14, 2008

The Cotter Corp. uranium mill has been cited by the state for radioactive contamination at the adjacent Shadow Hills Golf Club.

Though the mill has long been connected to nearby groundwater contamination - the area has been a federal Superfund cleanup site since 1984 - this is the first time state officials have linked the mill to contamination at the golf course and the first time contamination has been traced to mill operations after 1979, when it was rebuilt.

Until now, all contamination from Cotter was believed to be from before 1979. This is the first indication the reconstructed mill, built to modern standards, may not have prevented contamination as well as originally thought.

The citation comes as Cotter officials consider building a new facility and resuming operations at the site.

"The theory was the new mill wasn't contributing to any material off-site. (But) we believe this is from the quote, unquote new mill," said Steve Tarlton, head of the Radiation Management Unit at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Tarlton said there is no health threat because the golf course doesn't use well water. Water for grass, water hazards and other operations comes from treated municipal sources.

Cotter and state officials have suspected uranium was present at the golf course since last year, and recent tests by the state found uranium levels in groundwater from 110 to 150 micrograms per liter in most locations, though one test showed a level of 2,600. The federal standard is 30.

"It's a violation of the standards, but it doesn't present a public health issue," said Tarlton.

The mill, just south of Canon City, operated from 1958 to 1979, when it was rebuilt, and intermittently until 2006. Improper storage of uranium tailings - they were thrown into an unlined pit - contaminated water for the Lincoln Park subdivision to the north, leading to the Superfund designation and numerous lawsuits. The company paid to hookup residents to city water.

After the recent tests at the golf course, the state sent Cotter a notice of violation on July 25. The company has 60 days to submit a cleanup plan.

State officials suspect the contamination came from leaking storage tanks of contaminated water.

"It's possible. We don't know. That's the detective work we've got to undertake," said John Hamrick, vice president of milling for Cotter. He said the contamination also may have come from the improperly stored tailings or the former mill itself.

Cotter officials expect to rely on monitored natural attenuation, letting the tainted groundwater drain naturally, which could take decades or longer.

The golf course has taken a wait-and-see approach.

"It's a little bit too early for us to tell because they have 60 days to come up with a (cleanup) plan and as far as we're concerned, we're going to go business as usual," said Greg Dillon, PGA professional and director of operations. "We're going to trust the health department to come in and I know they're going to keep monitoring the whole situation."

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