Denver Direct: ASARCO’s Toxic Legacy to Continue

Saturday, March 19, 2011

ASARCO’s Toxic Legacy to Continue

by Tom Anthony

Back in the Age of Clinton, in 1996, I co-formed a group called CLEAN-IT (Citizens Loving their Environment and Neighborhood, Invincible Together) in response to Region 8 EPA’s decision to permanently bury 130,000 cubic yards of toxic radioactive waste at the old Shattuck Chemical site at 1805 S. Bannock, two blocks from the old South Broadway business district. In consequence, the residents of Overland Neighborhood became the first and so far, only, successful “overturners” of a completed EPA Record of Decision.

Fast forward to 2011 and my new neighborhood for the past 12 years, Elyria, neighbor to Globeville which sits directly across Denver’s only river, the South Platte. While several news stories have already touted the upcoming wonderful “cleanup” of the old ASARCO Globe site, citizens of Denver and particularily Globeville, have to ask themselves what there is to celebrate. As the “deal” was presented to the Globeville Civic Association #1 on March 9th, Region 8 EPA will give its landlord, Opus Northwest, $14 million (or $16 million) in “cleanup” funds, Opus expects a $10 million Tax Increment Financing bond to pay for another $10 million in “cleanup” costs, and Opus itself will pay for a liability bond, a cost represented as $1.6 million. Liability “for what” is not quite clear.

Meanwhile, the “Plan” itself is to stir up all the contaminated soil on the ASARCO site and mix it with “slurry” to “remediate” it; and leave it on site. This would include the buildings and even the bricks. As to the 100 acre slag pile on the river side of Washington Street, now called Heron Pond Open Space and Heron Pond, that’s not in the deal and presumably will remain a toxic sump for the rest of time. Next, Opus can sell the ASARCO land, nominally either 85 acres, 77 acres, or 70 acres, depending on whose account you’re reading, 80% of which is in Adams County, nearest voting residents over a mile away, for whatever it can get. And what will be the future use of the site? Well, underlying zoning on most of the site is I-3: heavy industrial. The site is rail served. The site is being identified as an industrial park in every news release I’ve seen. Therefore, the residents of Globeville can expect another industrial use, possibly a heavy industrial use, directly behind the 600 student Laradon Hall, directly behind Globeville Townhomes, just uphill from Heron Pond Open Space and the South Platte River. For those of you who have never lived next to hundreds of thousands of gallons of explosive chemical storage, asphalt or concrete batching, backup alarms continually going off day and night audible a mile away, auto crushers, diesel trucks using your neighborhood streets and idling for hours, unattenuated compressor pumps operating night and day, the occasional odd fire and explosion and spill and the scent of newly mixed aromatics of either volatile organic compounds or animal by products, the joyous cheers for the “up to 250 jobs” the site uses are expected to create don’t necessarily resound across the historic north neighborhoods. With industrial vacancy rates at near historic highs and lease rates near historic “inflation adjusted” lows, the wisdom of subsidizing another million or so square feet of centrally located industrial space has to cause at least a twinge to dozens of existing hand-wringing landlords. Doing so by creating an 80 acre toxic monolith is even less comprehensible.

Taking things a step further, while Region 8 did clap its collective hands together when nobody in Globeville objected to taking all the VB/I-70 Superfund waste to the Globe Smelter site for disposition, let’s not forget the ONLY VB/I-70 soils to be remediated came from residentially used lots. Since over 80% of the north neighborhoods are zoned industrial, only a tiny fraction of the “waste formerly blamed on ASARCO” has been remediated.

While Opus Northwest happily continues to receive its multimillion dollar lease payments from Region 8 (oops, the federal taxpayers) and Councilwoman Judy Montero’s campaign treasurer joyfully continues to receive her environmental education grants from Region 8 EPA (the latest of 10 posted being in the amount of $142,455 in 2009 for giving a 3 day seminar) expecting Globevillians to be awestricken at the sound of transistor radios and the sight of sulphur matches is only in keeping with the times.