Denver Direct: House District 8 Candidates Respond to Pollution in the Parks

Saturday, June 28, 2008

House District 8 Candidates Respond to Pollution in the Parks

The Democratic candidates for Colorado House District 8, which surrounds City Park, are Matt Bergles, Cindy Lowery, and Beth McCann. They have made position statements which are quite similar. All three have made environmental statements, to which I have linked.

I wanted to see how they would respond to the information about the toxic pollutants being added to our recycled water system from Lowry Landfill. So, by mail, I sent them a letter along with supporting documentation in the form of the copies of the 3-part Westword series, explaining in detail the history of how we ended up getting this toxic mess in our sewers, and a copy of the pertinent pages of the Permit from Metro Wastewater Management which allows this to happen. In all, about 55 pages of dense information.

Here is my letter to them:

April 21, 2008

Dear Candidates Bergles, Lowery, and McCann:

I am writing to you on a matter of grave concern. Washington Park’s Grasmere Lake and City Park’s Ferril Lake, as well as park grasslands, are currently being contaminated with toxic chemicals from the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site.

How this came about is easy to understand. In 2001 an Industrial Wastewater Discharge Permit was granted by the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District to flush pollutants (158) and radionuclides (10) from Lowry Landfill into Denver’s sewers (see enclosed list).

In 2004, Denver turned on our new sewer water recycling plant, which does not remove these contaminants, and the process of toxic waste disposal was complete – from Lowry Landfill to our parks.

As a candidate for House District 8, I believe you should be fully informed on the history of this problem. I urge you to read the enclosed reprint from Westword, written by award-winning author Eileen Welsome. It is dense with facts, and it is long, but it provides the details of this secretive, destructive process.

I have been told that this is Denver’s problem, and that as a potential State Representative you may have no ability to change this. Nonetheless, I believe that, as an environmentally concerned official whose constituents live around City Park, you may eventually have the influence to protect the citizens of District 8 from this egregious mistake.

I hope you agree that Permit No. 2360-3-1A must be revoked.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I have been writing about this on my blog,, where I have already posted videos of your campaign statements, and I will gladly post your response.

Best wishes to you in the upcoming primary.

Jerry Trumbule

Here are their answers in alphabetical order. Hopefully, this will help you decide which of these candidates you will vote for in the Democratic primary on August 12.

Matt Bergles

“I have learned a lot about the issue of potentially dangerous water ending up in Denver city parks. As a candidate for state representative, I want to make sure that all of Colorado’s water is as clean as can be, especially right here in the city that my family and I live in. I am very concerned with the management of the Lowry superfund sight, especially under the direction and management of the Bush Administration. There are some “gaps in the story” of how the water is flushed into Denver’s sewer water recycling plant and beyond. Although I was unable to obtain solid evidence that pollutants are affecting park wildlife (several sources cited avian botulism as the culprit in duck deaths), I do believe that city of Denver health officials, along with appropriate private, neutral consultants, should test the city’s park waters for contaminants – especially radionuclides – and make the results public. If unacceptable levels of pollutants are present, then federal, state and local officials must take steps to remediate – including a revocation of the industrial wastewater permit if necessary.”

Beth McCann

“Thank you for your letter of April 21, 2008 regarding the ground water being pumped from the Lowery Landfill Superfund Site. I apologize for the delay in responding. The Westword article you sent me was quite long and dense with information ,and I did not want to rush a response without having time to consider this information fully. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the history of this Superfund Site. I suspect the Westword article just scratches the surface of issues related to the Lowry site. Indeed, it raised a lot of questions for me.

It seems to me that there are at least four distinct and important issues raised by the Westword article, which include: (a) what level of radioactive contaminants exist at the Lowry Site; (b) where did the contaminants originate; (c) are the contaminants escaping from the site; and (d) what level of radioactive contaminants exists in the ground water being pumped and delivered to the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant? From the article, it is not entirely clear to me what the full monitoring and testing regime is for ground water that may be escaping from the site, or whether that regime is adequate. Has it changed at all since 2001? Finally, do you know if City Park and Washington Park are directly irrigated with treated wastewater from the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant? I know Denver’s water system is quite complex and that an old irrigation ditch flows through Washington Park. The Westword article did not appear to include information on the irrigation water delivery systems for these two parks.

As I mentioned, the Westword article and your letter raised a number of questions for me. First, it appears the article was written in 2001, and I imagine a lot has transpired since them. Is there more recent information available? For instance, the article stated that a USGS team had been hired by the EPA to complete an independent study of the radionuclides at Lowry. Do you know if this study or any other additional studies been completed since 2001? If so, do you know the results? Second, the article also indicated that a whistleblower suit had been filed by Adrienne Anderson. Has that lawsuit been resolved? The article stated that an initial decision in the lawsuit was expected in June of 2001. Third, the article focuses somewhat on Americium-241 and Plutonium-241, but the discharge permit only sets limits for Americium-241 and Plutonium-238, 239 and 240. Do they not monitor for Plutonium-241? Are there other radionuclides they should be monitoring that are not included in the discharge permit’s limits? Fourth, the article concludes by stating that the ground water being pumped in 2001 from the Lowry site contained low levels of radionuclides that appear to be within the discharge permit’s limits. Is that correct? Is there reason to believe the limits in the discharge permit are too high to protect the public’s health? Do you know whether they are complying with their discharge limits?

At this time, I do not have the technical expertise and all the information I need to make a fully informed decision as to whether the discharge permit for the Lowry Superfund Site should be revoked. I am quite concerned about the issues raised by you and the article. Obviously, if radioactive wastes are being discharged at unsafe levels into our waterways, onto agricultural lands and in our parks, it is a grave situation that should be promptly remedied. If I am elected to the House, I will seek to learn more about this situation. I will consider it carefully, and I will ask the tough questions and request additional investigation if needed. I am also open to considering whether the state legislature should take a more active role in addressing issues related to the Lowry site. Thank you for the background information on these issues and please keep me abreast of any developments.”

Cindy Lowery

Update: Cindy Lowery submitted her response in the comments.

Jerry (and everyone),

It has come to my attention that you have not received my response to your inquiry regarding the discharge permit from Lowry Landfill water through the Denver sewer systems. Therefore, I apologize for the delay in getting this message to you. I’ve reviewed the information you sent as well as additional research and agree that the situation related to the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site is concerning. My understanding is that there is no guarantee that the ‘water’ being pumped through Denver sewers is not toxic or is being properly diluted to the point of safety. I find it concerning that more residents are not aware of these issues.

As the next State Representative and as a community leader, I see my position not only as a policy leader at the Capitol but also as a leader representing the concerns of House District 8 residents in a variety of other manners. Therefore, I am committed to representing the concerns of residents related to this issue in front of the Denver City Council and to the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, I will attend hearings and meeting pertaining to the permit renewal process and express the concerns of the residents. Thank you again for bringing my attention to this important issue.

Cindy Lowery

Ok, there you have it. I hope you learned something about each candidate. I have not yet endorsed a candidate on this site as I prefer to gather information to present to you, the reader, so you can decide for yourselves.