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4:54 AM Fri, Sept. 21st

D-H committee leaning toward superfund

DEWEY-HUMBOLDT - Dewey-Humboldt's Environmental Issues Advisory Committee leaned toward endorsing the Environmental Protection Agency offer to clean up Humboldt's contaminated Iron King Mine and smelter, but it didn't make a formal recommendation Thursday.

During a joint meeting of the committee and council at town hall, five members of the advisory panel detailed the amount and kinds of exposed hazardous metals at the sites and discussed a possible EPA Superfund designation.

Superfund is a federal program to clean up the nation's hazardous waste sites.

Ultimately, the council must decide if it wants the EPA to place the sites on its National Priorities List. The council will meet with officials from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and EPA 4 at 3 p.m. to formulate a position.

The town and the state must agree to a Superfund designation before the EPA will move ahead.

On Thursday, advisory committee members Treesha deFrance and Dr. Michael Randall said the council should safeguard human health.

EPA officials report that more than 5,000 residents live within 4 miles of the Iron King Mine and smelter sites, which contain unsafe levels of arsenic and lead.

DeFrance said the defunct Iron King Mine, near the intersection of Highway 69 and Iron King Road, has 62 acres of tailings and waste rock piles covering most of the mine.

Meanwhile, she said, the smelter near the Third and Main streets in Humboldt still has thousands of square feet of yellow-orange tailings, gray smelter ash and slag on the property.

If the town agrees to a Superfund designation, Randall said, the EPA will sample and test the entire site to determine the extent of the contamination. Then it would assess the health risk, contain the contamination and clean it up to eliminate the public health threat.

Under the Superfund designation, the town would not pay for the cleanup.

Councilman Len Marinaccio, who doubles as a committee member, said a Superfund cleanup would eliminate the stigma of contamination and end threats to public health.

He said even though the cleanup could take several years and property values could fall temporarily, a Superfund designation would save the town time and money in the long run.

"The town has no enforcement powers (to test the sites for contamination)," he said. "It would be strictly voluntary to test."

ADEQ's studies of the mine and smelter in 2003 and 2004 concluded that arsenic and other toxic metals have contaminated the soil, sediments, surface water and groundwater severely at those sites.

But it was not until 2005 that the EPA found dangerously high levels of arsenic in four residential yards in Chaparral Gulch, downstream of the Iron King Mine.

DeFrance said EPA's 2006 Expanded Site Investigation Report said the 2005 results suggest additional lead and/or arsenic contamination on other neighborhood properties.

In addition, EPA officials report contamination may be on properties along Chaparral Alley and Main Street south of Prescott Street.

If the state and the town let the EPA list these sites as a Superfund priority, the agency then could pinpoint other spots of mine and smelter contamination in the town.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com