Semi-trailer rigs have been rumbling back and forth along nearby Custer County Road 271, hauling rock to the EPA’s emergency response cleanup project at the Terrible Mine. The ASARCO mining company is paying about $1.4 million for the cleanup, according to the EPA.
My house is located a couple miles from the mine as the raven flies. However, since the county once used the mine’s tailings to surface miles of local roads, lead from this mine could be found just about anywhere in this area.
Tests conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and released in 1998 revealed stretches of two main thoroughfares near my house — county roads 271 and 265 — had lead-carbonate concentrations ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 ppm. By comparison, the EPA’s action level for lead in soil in residential areas of the California Gulch Superfund site near Leadville was 3,500 ppm.
Tailings right at the Terrible Mine contain lead at levels up to 25,000 ppm.
Last summer a test of water from my well — taken during a period of heavy summer rainfall — found lead at levels at nearly double those considered acceptable by the EPA for drinking water. A subsequent test weeks later during a dry spell found no detectable levels of lead in our water.
These tests on our water sparked my High Country News/Writers on the Range essay called “Something in the water.” The piece has been picked up by a number of Colorado newspapers, as well as papers in Wyoming, Oregon and Montana. You can read it on the Summit Daily’s site: Click here.
I’m left wondering whether there’s any connection between the lead apparently passing through my well water and tailings from the nearby mine that were used on local roads. Is it possible lead carbonate in tailings spread on the roadways could have washed off the roads, leached into the ground and made its way into the fractured-rock aquifers that feed my well?
Meanwhile, despite the contractor’s efforts with a water truck, the semi-trailers raise great clouds of dust on the road every day.