Decommissioning issues at Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
(last updated 22 Oct 2023)
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NRC Docket No.
Nearly 40 years after Superfund designation, former Cañon City uranium mill site still has no radioactive waste cleanup plan
[...] nearly 40 years after federal regulators designated the mill and surrounding areas a Superfund site and mandated its cleanup, the radioactive waste remains. There still is no plan for how to deal with the millions of tons of radioactive material sitting just south of Cañon City, a city of 17,000 located about 35 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. [...]
Cotter in 2018 completed a deal in which the company paid a different company, Colorado Legacy Land, an undisclosed amount to take over ownership of the former mill and also assume responsibility for the legally required cleanup. [...]
But after Colorado Legacy Land reported this year that it had run out of money, the regulating agencies scrambled to find people to continue the work. [...]
This month, regulators announced Cotter Corp. would resume long-term responsibilities at the site. [...]
Colorado Legacy Land last November published a draft work plan to conduct a remedial investigation and a feasibility study, a key step toward cleaning up the site. [...]
That plan was deemed deficient in February by the EPA and the CDPHE.
Cotter, now back in charge, will start over on the work plan [...].
(Denver Post Oct. 22, 2023)
Cleanup of former Cañon City uranium mill site on halt after owner's insolvency
After having acquired the Lincoln Park/Cotter Superfund Site just five years ago, Colorado Legacy Land [CLL] announced in February that it had declared insolvency and no longer would be able to fulfill its obligations at the site, because of insufficient available funds.
CLL had been paid by the previous company, Cotter Corp., to take over the site and to take over their responsibility for the environmental assessment that still needs to be done and one day, clean-up of the site.
(Cañon City Daily Record Mar. 7, 2023)
Comment invited on Draft Community Involvement Plan Update for Lincoln Park Superfund Site
The goal of this Community Involvement Plan (CIP) is to encourage and facilitate community engagement throughout the Lincoln Park Superfund Site cleanup process. The CIP describes how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will involve the community and address local needs during the Superfund process.
This CIP revision is designed to reflect changes on the site and in the community since the plan was last revised in December 2015.
Submit comments by 5:00 p.m. February 25, 2021.
> Access: Documents Available for Public Review and Comment (CDPHE)
Draft Remedial Investigation Report released for former Cañon City uranium mill site
This Draft Remedial Investigation (RI) Report summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding the investigation of the nature and extent of contamination, contaminant fate and transport, and assessment of human health and ecological risks at the Site and identifies data gaps that must be filled to complete the RI.
Submit comments by Nov. 30, 2020.
> View: Documents Available for Public Review and Comment (CDPHE)
> Download: Draft Remedial Investigation Report Former Cañon City Mill Remediation Project and Lincoln Park Superfund Site OU1/OU2/OU3 Cañon City, Fremont County, Colorado EPA ID No. COD042167858 , Colorado Legacy Land, September 2020 (198MB PDF)
> Download: Draft Remedial Investigation Report Former Cañon City Mill Remediation Project and Lincoln Park Superfund Site OU1/OU2/OU3 Cañon City, Fremont County, Colorado EPA ID No. COD042167858 , Colorado Legacy Land, May 2022 (141MB PDF)
Trichloroethene exceeds groundwater standard at former Cañon City uranium mill site up to 192-fold
"There were no VOCs [volatile organic compounds] detections above the reporting limit for any of the soil samples or equipment-blank samples analyzed. [...]
During 4Q 2019, a total of 9 VOCs (1,-3-dichlorobenzene, 2-butanone, bromoform, chloroform, chloromethane, cis-1,2-dichloroethene, methyl tert-butyl ether, tetrachloroethene, and TCE) were detected in groundwater samples. TCE was the only VOC to exceed its ARAR/TBC [Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements/To Be Considered] value of 5 µg/L in the same 9 primary sample locations as during 2Q 2019 [...]; TCE exceedance concentrations ranged from 40 µg/L to 960 µg/L."
> Download: Final Report - Trichloroethene in Groundwater and Soil, Former Cañon City Mill Remediation Project and Lincoln Park Superfund Site , Colorado Legacy Land, June 2020 (267MB PDF)
> See also revised report: Final Report - Trichloroethene in Groundwater and Soil, Former Cañon City Mill Remediation Project and Lincoln Park Superfund Site , Colorado Legacy Land, Nov. 2020 (300MB PDF)
> See also revised report: Final Report - Trichloroethene in Groundwater and Soil, Former Cañon City Mill Remediation Project and Lincoln Park Superfund Site , Colorado Legacy Land, Apr. 2021 (293MB PDF)
Removal Site Evaluation Work Plan for Trichloroethene in Groundwater and Soil at former Cañon City uranium mill site
Colorado Legacy Land, LLC (CLL) is proposing this Removal Site Evaluation Work Plan (Work Plan) to assess whether volatile organic compound (VOC), specifically trichloroethene (TCE) and its daughter products (dichloroethene [DCE] and vinyl chloride) contamination in groundwater and soils at the Former Cañon City Mill Facility (the Site) in Cañon City, Colorado pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Alexco Water and Environment, Inc (AWE) prepared this Work Plan on behalf of CLL to determine the nature and extent of VOC contamination at the Site. This Work Plan discusses site characterization, previous nature and extent of contamination, data quality objectives (DQOs), the sampling and analysis plan, data analysis and reporting, and schedule and mobilization. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that will be utilized in the Work Plan are included in Appendix A.
Submit comments by 5 pm, May 3, 2019.
> View CDPHE notice , Apr. 1, 2019
CDPHE approved the work plan on Aug. 2, 2019.
> Access related documents
CDPHE approves license transfer to new owner of decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill
> Download: License Amendment 57 and related documents (CDPHE, Mar. 9, 2018)
Decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill and leaking Schwartzwalder Mine under new ownership:
The Lincoln Park Superfund Site, which was added to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List in 1984, is under new ownership.
The Cotter Corp. owned the non-operating uranium mill property south of Cañon City for decades before it was sold Friday (Mar. 9) to Colorado Legacy Land. The Central City Schwartzwalder Mine also was sold to the company.
Colorado Legacy Land is a partnership between Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco Environmental Group. Colorado Legacy Land was set up to clean the Lincoln Park Superfund Site and the Schwartzwalder Mine, said Eric Williams, president of Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship.
(Cañon City Daily Record Mar. 11, 2018)
Opposition forms to license transfer of leaking Schwartzwalder Mine and decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill to new owner
Colorado officials tasked with protecting people and the environment are weighing whether to let Cotter Corp. transfer ownership and responsibility for cleanup of toxic sites - including a defunct uranium mine contaminating groundwater and a creek above a Denver reservoir - to a newly formed local company.
But Denver Water , Arvada Utilities and community activists are challenging the deal. If state officials let Cotter walk away, they contend, Colorado could lose if the new company fails to get very difficult cleanup jobs done.
Cotter for decades has jockeyed with Colorado health and natural resources officials over cleanups at Cotter's Schwartzwalder Mine west of Denver and a uranium mill site along the Arkansas River near Cañon City. The mill cleanup ranks among the nation's longest-running National Priority List projects. An Environmental Protection Agency Superfund process that began in 1984, with Cotter in 1988 signing a consent decree, has yet to produce a completed "remedial investigation" to determine costs and options for final disposal of waste.
Cotter, a subsidiary of defense contractor General Atomics, proposes to pay Colorado Legacy Lands [Colorado Legacy Land, LLC in Denver] an undisclosed sum to take over both toxic messes. The company was formed last year by environmental specialists whose track record includes work at the Gold King Mine.
"We fear the transfer is premature and it lets Cotter/General Atomics off the hook," Cañon City community action group member Jeri Fry said.
The stakes are high. Contaminants leaking from the Schwartzwalder Mine into the Ralston Creek watershed above Denver Water's Ralston Reservoir include arsenic, radium and uranium - occasionally at levels exceeding health limits, according to data obtained by The Denver Post.
(Denver Post Jan. 31, 2018)
> Download opponents' comments (CDPHE)
CDPHE invites comment on license transfer to new owner of decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill
Submit comments by 5pm on October 13, 2017.
> View Documents Available for Public Comment (CDPHE)
CDPHE invites comment on Quality Assurance Project Plan for decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill
Submit comments by August 18, 2017 (date brought forward from September 4, 2017!).
> View Documents Available for Public Comment (CDPHE)
Cotter to sell off decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
A Denver-based corporation wants to take over the non-operating Cotter Corp. uranium mill in Cañon City -- a Superfund site - for the purpose of remediating the contaminated land and acting as a steward of the land in the future.
Colorado Legacy Land, a Delaware LLC based in Denver, is currently in negotiations with Cotter to obtain the former uranium mill, along with the Central City Schwartzwalder Mine. Doing so would mean the company owns the Cañon City land and would be responsible for clean up.
Even so, Cotter always will remain a potential responsible party because the company caused the contamination. If Colorado Legacy Land fails to clean up the land, the burden would fall back on Cotter.
(Cañon City Daily Record July 20, 2017)
Spill of 'slightly contaminated' water at decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
Approximately 5,200 gallons of water leaked during the replacement of pipeline on Cotter Corp. early Friday (Mar. 17) morning, according to a release from the Colorado state health department.
"Right after the spill, Cotter workers were able to recover most of the spilled water using a water truck, except for a small portion that soaked into the soil," according to the health department, which received the notice from Cotter.
It's unclear how much "slightly contaminated" water seeped into the ground or will evaporate, but Steve Cohen, Cotter's plant manager estimates around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons were picked up with the truck.
(Cañon City Daily Record Mar. 17, 2017)
In a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Monday (Mar. 20), Cotter plant manager Steve Cohen said the leak was closer to 4,100 gallons, rather than the originally-reported 5,200 gallons.
(Cañon City Daily Record Mar. 20, 2017)
Cotter Corp. agrees to pay EPA nearly $1 million for oversight costs for decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
Cotter Corp. has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $1 million to cover past costs the government agency incurred while working at the Superfund site during a two-year period.
The agreement requires Cotter to pay EPA $957,604 for past oversight costs, incurred between 2012 and 2014.
(Pueblo Chieftain Sep. 13, 2016)
EPA invites comment on settlement agreement with Cotter Corp. on past oversight costs for decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
Submit comments by July 18, 2016.
> View CDPHE release June 16, 2016
> Federal Register Volume 81, Number 116 (Thursday, June 16, 2016) p. 39262 (download full text )
> Download: Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent for Payment of Past Response Costs , May 26, 2016 (1.8MB PDF)
Cotter Corp. to pay EPA nearly $1 million for oversight costs at decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado)
Cotter Corp. agreed Wednesday (June 8) to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $957,604 for oversight costs from 2012 through 2014 associated with contamination from the company's uranium mill near Cañon City.
The amount recovered represents a calculation of the costs incurred by EPA in the two years.
A separate account will be set up for the recovered funds to be used for future cleanup expenses, according to the EPA. But that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste co-chair Sharyn Cunningham said will be required to remediate the Lincoln Park Superfund Site.
This announcement of Wednesday's agreement is separate from a 2014 agreement in which Cotter agreed to pay EPA and the state costs going forward, according to EPA public information officer Richard Mylott.
(Cañon City Daily Record June 8, 2016)
CDPHE invites comment on Draft Quality Management Plan for decommissioning of Cañon City uranium mill
Submit comments by August 1, 2015.
> View CDPHE public review page
CDPHE invites comment on reduced air monitoring requirements at decommissioning Cañon City uranium mill
CDPHE proposes to approve quarterly sampling for all locations for both the air particulates and radon decay products. The Department also approves Cotter's proposed monitoring locations, with additions.
Submit comments by April 10, 2015.
> View CDPHE public comment page
CDPHE issues license amendment on decommissioning of Cañon City uranium mill
On Dec. 9, 2014, CDPHE issued Radioactive Materials License, Amendment No. 54 for public comment.
> Access related documents (CDPHE)
ATSDR Public Health Assessment report identifies health hazards for residents living near Cañon City uranium mill site
From the conclusions:
> Download: Public Health Assessment - Lincoln Park Superfund Site And Associated Activities at the Cotter Corporation Uranium Mill, Cañon City, Fremont County, Colorado , Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Sep. 22, 2014 (6.5MB PDF - CDPHE)
- "ATSDR concludes that drinking water for many years from a private well that contains elevated levels of molybdenum and uranium could harm people's health."
- "ATSDR concludes that a person eating an average amount of homegrown
fruits and vegetables (defined as approximately 1½ cups per day) will not
experience harmful health effects. However, people who eat a lot of fruits
and vegetables (defined as approximately 5 cups per day) from their home
garden may be at risk from exposure to arsenic. People who eat
approximately 5 cups or more per day of arsenic-contaminated
homegrown fruits and vegetables may experience harmful health effects."
Heavy rains cause mudflow at Cañon City uranium mill site
Monday (Aug. 25) night's heavy rains south of here caused some havoc at the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill, but there have been no off-site releases of contaminated water, according to state health officials.
Sand Creek mudflow knocked down a fence, clogged a culvert, flowed over the road and then deposited in the pond, blocking a pump that prevents releases of contaminated water from seeping off site. Officials are working to dig the pump out and repair it, which could take several days, said Warren Smith, Colorado Department of Public Health spokesman.
(Pueblo Chieftain Aug. 27, 2014)
EPA invites comment on Proposed Administrative Settlement and Order on Consent for Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study at Cañon City uranium mill site
Proposed Administrative Settlement and Order on Consent for Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study, Lincoln Park Superfund Site, Cañon City, Fremont County, Colorado.
Comments must be submitted on or before October 27, 2014.
> Federal Register Volume 79, Number 165 (Tuesday, August 26, 2014) p. 50908 (download full text )
> Download: Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent for Remedial Investigation / Feasibility Study , July 16, 2014 (5.8MB PDF - CDPHE)
> Download: Agreement and Order on Consent - Appendix A: Lincoln Park Area Map , July 16, 2014 (1.2MB PDF - CDPHE)
License amendment on decommissioning of Cañon City uranium mill open for public comment
Submit comments by September 16, 2014.
> Download Draft Documents (CDPHE)
Groundwater-well clean-up bill takes first hurdles in Colorado legislature
> View here
Removing Cañon City uranium tailings would cost $895 million, Cotter Corp. says
Cotter Corp. has told Colorado public health overseers it would cost more than $895 million to remove the 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings from the company's dismantled mill along the Arkansas River.
Disposing of the tailings elsewhere would require 455 trucks a day for 5½ years hauling 100-ton hazardous loads through Cañon City, according to an analysis Cotter sent Nov. 6 at the request of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
(Denver Post Feb. 20, 2013)
State withdraws license amendment for decommissioning of Cañon City uranium mill after group's criticism of missing opportunity for public input
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced Friday (Jan. 15) it has withdrawn the most recent amendment to Cotter Corp.'s radioactive materials license and will seek additional public input.
CDPHE announced it amended the license in January to reflect current activities on the site.
The license was amended at that time to delete references to operations and to shift existing requirements from operations to decommissioning and reclamation.
Shortly after the amendment was issued, Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste issued a statement expressing their concern that there was no public input on the amendment.
Friday's action by the department reverts the license to the state it was prior to the amendment. That license expired Jan. 31, but can continue to operate until a new amendment is in place.
(Cañon City Daily Record Feb. 15, 2013)
State issues decommissioning license for Cañon City uranium mill
Cotter Corp. has the green light to decommission its uranium mill.
"The Colorado Department of Public Health has issued an amended radioactive materials license to Cotter to reflect current activities," said Jeannie Natterman, public information specialist. "It is a housekeeping measure since they are not processing ore anymore."
"Now it is a decommissioning and reclamation license," she said.
Cotter officials will continue to address radon releases from the impoundments, daily perimeter inspections as well as groundwater testing. In addition, Cotter workers are finishing the demolition of old buildings, which are being placed into the primary impoundment, Natterman said.
"Amending Cotter's license coordinates regulatory activities with the decommissioning and closure process," explained Gary Baughman, hazardous materials division director.
(Pueblo Chieftain Jan. 30, 2013)
Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste (CCAT) issued a press release Thursday (Jan. 31) concerning the amended radioactive materials license issued this week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"Despite legislation passed in 2010 requiring robust public participation and disclosures when renewing and amending licenses involving disposal of uranium mill tailings, CDPHE defied the Legislature and shunned public input in favor of closed-door negotiations between Cotter and CDPHE staff," CCAT stated in a press release.
(Cañon City Daily Record Feb. 2, 2013)
State regulator relaxes molybdenum standard for groundwater plume at Cañon City uranium mill with "drastic impact" on the size of the Lincoln park plume
On Oct. 15, 2012, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) notified Cotter Corp. that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) changed the molybdenum groundwater standard from 35 µg/liter to 210 µg/liter, effective January 31, 2013.
Further, uranium recovery licensees must meet U.S. EPA 40 CFR 192 requirements for molybdenum of 100 µg/liter. Therefore, the criteria to be met at the Lincoln Park plume reverts to 100 µg/liter. This change "will have a drastic impact on the size of the Lincoln park plume and the number of wells impacted".
Comment invited on "Road Map" for cleanup of Cañon City uranium mill site and surroundings
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are accepting comments on a proposed path forward or "Road Map" to clean up historic uranium mill contamination both on and off of Cotter Corporation's property located in the Lincoln Park Superfund site.
Submit comments by August 19, 2012.
> Download Public Notice (July 16, 2012) and related documents: CDPHE · EPA Region 8
Timeout called over cleanup of Cañon City uranium mill in response to call for tailings relocation rather than on-site reclamation
Wrangling over cleanup of radioactive waste at one of Colorado's worst environmental disasters grew so irksome this past spring that Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Environmental Protection Agency, Cotter Corp. and Cañon City residents have declared a timeout.
The official purpose is to reset the whole process for dealing with Cotter's former uranium mill near the Arkansas River. The EPA deployed a private facilitator to create a new "road map" for finally completing a Superfund cleanup started in 1984.
Eventually, the CDPHE and Cotter will conduct an analysis of alternatives, including costs and environmental aspects of moving waste to off-site disposal locations, Hickenlooper's spokesman Eric Brown said.
(Denver Post June 24, 2012)
CDPHE invites public comment on decommissioning of Cañon City uranium mill
The first round of documents relating to the termination of Cotter's radioactive materials license have been received and a public comment period begins today.
Written comments will be accepted through Feb. 17 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on three documents: the New Evaporation Pond Conceptual Design, Onsite Soil Excavation and Groundwater Characterization Process Plan and the Soil Remediation Criteria Selection.
(The Cañon City Daily Record Jan. 17, 2012)
Written comments will be accepted through March 2, 2012 (comment period extended).
> View CDPHE notice Jan. 17, 2012
Cotter Corp. adds $6.8 million to Cañon City uranium mill cleanup as Colorado accelerates timetable
It'll take at least a decade before Cotter Corp.'s contaminated Colorado uranium mill is cleaned up under a new deal aimed at accelerating work at the site.
State regulators on Friday (Jan. 13) announced terms that include Cotter adding $6.8 million more to a $20.8 million surety fund as insurance if the company fails to complete the cleanup. They say negotiations with Cotter led to an arrangement in which $3.6 million of that surety money immediately will be used in an effort to speed the work.
The agreement settles a long-running dispute about the surety fund - state officials have estimated cleanup would cost as much as $40 million - and also sets Cotter's timetable and penalties if deadlines aren't met.
It "affirms Cotter's commitment to site remediation," according to a statement from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment director Chris Urbina.
Key tasks include:
"All sides agree this is how we are going to proceed," said John Hamrick, vice president of milling for Cotter, a subsidiary of San Diego-based defense contractor General Atomics.
However, a cleanup watchdog group criticized the deal Friday night, saying plans were revised with little public input.
(Denver Post Jan. 14, 2012)
- Installing new monitoring wells and lining ditches in adjacent Cañon City.
- Building and testing a system that could flush and treat contaminated water in the so-called "dam to ditch" area straddling Cotter's 1,500-acre property and private land.
- Digging a trench system and new evaporation pond for holding contaminated water at the mill site.
- Jul. 31, 2016: 7,000 gallon spill from pumpback system
- Dec. 3, 2015: 500 gallon spill from pumpback system
- Nov. 25, 2015: 1,800 gallon spill from pumpback system
- Sep. 4, 2014: 24,000 - 210,000 gallon spill due to leak in the pumpback system
- Mar. 10 2014: 20,000 gallon spill of contaminated water (U: 2.84 mg/L, Mo: 3.74 mg/L)
- Nov. 5, 2013: 4,000 - 9,000 gallon spill of contaminated water (U: 0.834 mgL, Mo: 2.018 mg/L)
> View older issues