Originally Published: September 4, 2007 9:41 p.m.
DEWEY-HUMBOLDT - With the governor scheduled to announce later this month whether she wants the feds to place the old Iron King Mine and smelter on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund hazardous waste cleanup list, the Dewey-Humboldt Town Council is busy formulating its own position.
During a 2-1/2 hour community meeting with EPA and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials Tuesday afternoon, residents asked questions and commented on the possible listing.
On or before Sept. 20, both the Town Council and Gov. Janet Napolitano's office officially will give their positions on the matter.
Dewey-Humboldt Mayor Earl Goodwin said Tuesday the governor's office has indicated to him that the D-H council's decision will help mold her own.
"We are under the same clock," Goodwin said. "At our meeting Sept. 11, hopefully the council will arrive at a conclusion if the listing's OK or if it prefers not to have one."
Mike Fulton, deputy director for ADEQ's waste programs division, said Napolitano could choose either ADEQ or EPA, or offer an alternative.
"She has not made up her mind in any way," Fulton said.
However, Fulton added that the state Legislature is supposed to give ADEQ $18 million per year for its hazardous waste cleanup program, but lawmakers have yet to allocate the full amount over the past several years.
ADEQ currently has 35 sites on its cleanup list and Fulton believes the state would have difficulty taking on the Humboldt-area mine and smelter cleanup in a timely manner.
"We're pretty well tapped," he said. "It doesn't benefit anyone to put it on our list if we don't have the resources to deal with it."
At the start of Tuesday's meeting, EPA representative Mike Montgomery gave a brief presentation about what a federal Superfund designation means and discussed the results from the agency's soil sampling from the mine's massive tailings pile.
In its follow-up investigation, the EPA examines the soil, air, groundwater and drinking water to gauge the actual and potential risks to human health and the environment.
He said the agency's biggest concern is the abnormally high levels of arsenic it found in the mine's tailings piles, which EPA officials say contains anywhere from 2,690 to 6,460 parts per million. The natural level for arsenic in soil is 10 parts per million.
Arsenic can cause reproductive and developmental problems during periods of short-term exposure. If a person consumes arsenic over a long enough period of time, it can cause cancer and other illnesses.
At the Humboldt smelter site on the opposite side of Highway 69 from the mine, the EPA reports anywhere from 134 to 516 parts per million of arsenic in the soil.
The EPA believes its initial investigation of these tailings piles, as well as contaminated soil at more than a dozen residential properties near the mine and smelter, confirms the need for a Superfund cleanup.
If the council agrees to a listing, the EPA would have the authority to fully characterize the extent of the mine and smelter's contamination, and look for the sites' former operators to clean up the sites with the agency's oversight.
If these operators are unable or unwilling to finish the cleanup, the EPA can use Superfund money to complete the job.
"We could begin as soon as this winter or spring (with the cleanup)," Montgomery said. "If we're given approval from the governor, we don't have to wait until the site is final."
Most of the residents who commented Tuesday said they would prefer alternative solutions to a Superfund listing, whether it's done through private enterprise or at the state level. They also questioned whether the mine and smelter sites have caused serious health concerns for residents.
Montgomery said negative effects to human health would occur over the long term with this type of contamination. He added that the EPA has the money available to clean up the area.