Getting the lead out

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.

Meat production and greenhouse gases

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a tax on cattle and hogs that officials say contribute to carbon emissions. Annual fees could range as high as $87.50 per head for beef cattle.

Ranchers say it could put them out of business. Supporters say it would force ranchers to switch to “healthier crops.”bull

This argument is the same gross overgeneralization often put forth by the vegetarian crowd — that all meat production contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and that people are healthier eating a grain-based diet.

While the greenhouse gas assertion may be true for animals fed grain in feedlots and factory farms, the opposite is actually true for animals raised on pasture. In fact, animals raised on pasture rather than on grain actually can help reduce carbon buildup. Management intensive grazing or holistic pasture management actually promotes the growth of oxygen-producing plants — grasses and other forage — while reducing the amount of gases produced by the animals themselves. Grasslands also may be more effective than trees at removing carbon emissions from the air.

In addition, pasture-based agriculture eliminates the fossil-fuel intensive production of cereal grains, which must be planted, fertilized, cultivated, treated with pesticides, harvested and transported. Grain farming is a leading cause of death of songbirds, and the overconsumption of cereal grains by humans is a major contributor to many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Scientific research has shown the health risks associated with vegetarianism. Meat from grassfed animals is a much healthier choice, with a fat profile closer to that of wild game animals that humans have eaten throughout evolution.

It would make more sense for the EPA to tax cattle producers that use the grain-fed feedlot approach while giving a tax break to ranchers who are raising animals on pasture and using holistic grazing practices. While we’re at it, why not cut out subsidies for and heavily tax the big producers of corn and other grains that are at the root of so many environmental and health problems.


Bumper sticker of the month: Religion is for people who are scared of going to Hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.