Daily Record News Group
CITY - Radioactive, contaminated, Superfund waste.
Such terms, all accurate, describe the 470,000 tons of waste from
Maywood, N.J., that Cotter would like to bring to Canon City to
use as cover material for waste impoundments at the mill south of
Colorado Department of Health and Environment officials, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection
Agency and Army Corps of Engineers all have deemed soil from the
Maywood Superfund site to be appropriate for disposal in the Cotter
Corporation mill tailings impoundments. Yet opponents are not convinced
that the soil is safe for disposal there, or even that the soil
was properly tested.
The majority of the Superfund dirt came directly from processing
at the Maywood Chemical Co., which fabricated lantern mantels using
the radioactive element thorium between 1916 and 1956.
Technically, because of its history, the contaminated soil has been
classified under section 11e(2) of the Atomic Energy Act as "byproduct
material" that is generated by mining and milling of ores containing
uranium and thorium.
Cotter is licensed to handle such material.
general, 11e(2) material is low-(radio)activity material compared
to low-level waste and high-level waste," Jan Johnson, an environmental
consultant and member of Colorado's Radiation Advisory Committee,
told Colorado lawmakers during hearings on the issue in April.
Cotter site is designed to take this material," she said. "
It's designed to handle higher level (radioactive) materials than
Maywood. And the Cotter site will have a long-term custodian - the
tailings pads will be deeded to the federal government."
Because it is defined as 11e(2) waste, the Maywood material cannot
be disposed of in low-level or high-level waste dumps. And according
to Johnson's testimony to legislators, there's a good reason for
shouldn't take up valuable space in low-level radioactive waste
sites with material that's very much lower level and poses very
little risk," she said.
Johnson said that the Maywood material can actually be used in a
beneficial way. "It can reduce radioactive risk," she
said, by serving as a cap to the more radioactive uranium tailings
already in the tailings impoundments.
Pat Teegarten, an attorney representing Cotter, told lawmakers it
would actually "improve the quality of the soils out there."
But other hazardous substances, some of them proven carcinogens,
also have shown up in the Maywood soil. Some came from the Maywood
Chemical Co., others from the Stepan Chemical Co., which bought
the Maywood plant in 1959 and manufactured a number of chemicals
there, including additives for soap and deodorants.
And residents who live in Cañon City, especially those in
the Lincoln Park area that was already polluted by Cotter, are concerned
about the possibility of the nearby mill becoming a dump for additional
types of waste.
Maywood soil has chemicals in it, but they keep telling us there's
not," said Sharyn Cunningham, president of the activist group
Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste, which formed to protest the
Maywood soils. "They keep saying that it's just thorium in
leaves you with the impression that thorium is all they ever did
at the factory, but that's far from it," she said, pointing
out that the EPA describes the plant manufacturing chemicals used
in pharmaceuticals, food additives, and soap and detergents.
Cunningham, who lives on land with two wells contaminated by uranium
and molybdenum from Cotter, said the thorium residue is bad enough,
but the other chemicals make the shipment a huge risk.
scares the hell out of me," she said. "God knows what
else is in there."
and chemical contaminants
According to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for
the Maywood cleanup under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action
Program, or FUSRAP, the major contaminant in the dirt proposed for
shipment to Cotter is residual amounts of thorium-232.
analysis of over 3,000 samples indicates widespread contamination
of radium-226, thorium-232 and uranium-238," according to an
April 1993 Baseline Risk Assessment of the Maywood site conducted
for the Corps.
Waste and tailings from the chemical company's lantern production
ended up not only dumped in lagoons on-site, but also spread across
the surrounding area by streams that flowed through the property.
Some of the Maywood material was also used as both mulch and grading
material on nearby residential and commercial properties, and it
was spread around the area further by construction.
Measurements have detected thorium-232 radiation ranging from background
levels - approximately 1 to 2 picocuries per gram of soil - to 1,699
picocuries per gram. They also found uranium-238 up to 625 picocuries
per gram, and radium-226 from background levels to 447 picocuries
sites have been characterized extensively by both the Department
of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers," said Angela Carpenter,
the EPA's remedial project manager for the Maywood site. "And
in general, the radiological risk far outranks the chemical risks."
The several million tons of tailings already in Cotter's impoundments
emit radiation in ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 picocuries per gram
of soil, most of it attributable to residual radium and thorium,
according to Jake Jacobi, the head of the Colorado health department's
radiation services program.
Background radiation levels in and around Cañon City range
from less than 1 picocurie per gram to around 7 picocuries per gram,
due mainly to naturally occurring uranium and radium deposits, Jacobi
What worries CCAT, however, is that while Cotter might have been
built to handle the radioactive tailings, it wasn't designed for
chemical wastes, minimal or not.
was never intended for things like hazardous chemicals," Cunningham
Cotter has already faced one instance of just what Cunningham fears.
According to EPA documents, prior to its 1988 shutdown, the mill
accepted and processed a shipment of unspecified waste ore that
was contaminated with PCBs, a now-banned coolant and lubricant.
Contamination spread to other parts of the mill property and had
to be extracted from polluted soil.
risks of chemicals
According to Carpenter, the bulk of the chemicals at the Maywood
site - which comprise 88 residential and commercial properties,
the Stepan Chemical property and the 11-acre Department of Energy-owned
Maywood Interim Storage Site - are volatile organic compounds such
as benzene, toluene and xylene.
Those chemicals, she said, have mostly "volatilized" off
the soil or leached into groundwater, where they are still found
in higher concentrations.
were all common fuel components and solvents that had widespread
use throughout '60s and '70s," Carpenter said.
Chemical analysis included in the 1993 Baseline Risk Assessment
of the Maywood site, which consisted of 118 samples taken from 44
bore holes, identified 36 "contaminants of concern" occurring
in the soil. They consisted of seven heavy metals, six volatile
organic compounds and 23 other bases, acids and pesticides.
Two of the heavy metals, arsenic and chromium, are classified as
carcinogenic, as are two of the organics and all but two of the
But according to Army Corps risk assessment, the potential cancer
risk, even for someone living at a future residence built on the
Maywood site or regularly visiting a hypothetical park, would be
The contaminants do not occur in substantial enough quantities to
trigger hazardous waste regulations.
is correct to say that there is chemical contamination within the
radioactive contamination," acknowledged Allen Roos, the Maywood
project manager for the Army Corps. "Chemical contamination
has been detected. However, it's not considered hazardous. It's
not at levels hazardous enough to make it considered a mixed waste,"
which Cotter is not authorized to receive.
In a separate November 1994 remedial investigation, an EPA contractor
took 126 samples from 44 bore holes on just the Stepan Chemical
and several commercial properties. That study detected 81 chemical
contaminants classified in six categories: volatile organic compounds
such as solvents, aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, heavy metals,
gasoline and oil, and ether oils.
This, said Roos, is where much of the confusion about Maywood arises.
Although Stepan and some of the commercial properties are part of
the Maywood Superfund site, the lead agency for the cleanup of their
non-radiological contamination is the EPA, not the Army Corps of
Engineers, which operates under a separate remedial investigation.
sites overlap, but not 100 percent," said the EPA's Carpenter.
"It's definitely not the case that you can view this cleanup
as one unit."
According to the EPA's remedial investigation, only two volatile
compounds, xylene and benzene, exceeded New Jersey residential soil
cleanup standards. Xylene measured at 120 parts per million and
benzene measured at 81 ppm. Five metals in the Stepan soil - arsenic,
cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury - also exceeded the cleanup
But according to Steve Landau, Cotter's environmental affairs manager,
Cañon City will not receive any contaminated material from
the Stepan and commercial properties. That waste will be cleaned
up later and "shipped to an entirely different facility,"
he told Cañon City residents at a community meeting on the
Maywood issue in May.
As for the other Maywood material proposed for shipment to Cotter,
Landau said it does not contain hazardous chemicals.
testing that has been done on the material for chemicals
doesn't show them to be present and cause the material to become
hazardous waste," he said.
Landau also said even if it were approved, accepting any tailings
tainted with hazardous chemicals could jeopardize Cotter's ability
to turn the plant site over to the Department of Energy when it
is decommissioned in the distant future.
Such assurances - either from the company or the government - don't
calm the fears of anti-Maywood activists such as Jeri Fry, a member
of CCAT and daughter of the late Lynn Boughton, Cotter's chief chemist
for 21 years.
All the soil testing and sampling in the world isn't enough, she
said, to prevent mistakes and lapses.
you look at the tailings there with eyes that only see radiation,
then that's all you see," she said.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides
the evidence to support her statement. The registry determined that
the Department of Energy wasn't even testing for all the right radioactive
elements when it began characterizing the Maywood site.
Even armed with an extensive history of the site, the DOE initially
tested the soil for radon-222, a decay product of uranium, which
was never the main focus of manufacturing at the Maywood plant.
The DOE revised its sampling program only after the registry recommended
that it sample for radon-220, the decay product for thorium-232.
agency does what?
Under an agreement between the EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
the NRC has authority for so-called 11e(2) uranium and thorium tailings,
even those tainted with minimal amounts of other chemical wastes.
was contemplated that the impoundments the NRC designed would be
able to handle that kind of stuff," said Tom Burns, the management
unit chief for the EPA's solid and hazardous waste program in Region
8, which includes Colorado.
Unless a chemical is specifically defined as hazardous under the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs hazardous
waste from cradle to grave, the EPA's responsibility and involvement
in handling the material is limited.
defer to the NRC authority to cover it," said Burns.
EPA does get involved when a facility such as Cotter is identified
as a possible recipient of Superfund material, but only in the sense
of ensuring that there are no violations or other problems that
would preclude the site from taking in the waste.
don't look at whether this is the right waste to go into this facility,"
said Terry Brown, the EPA's off-site rules coordinator for Region
8. "Our involvement is in determining whether Cotter is in
compliance under their license and whether they have any releases
into the environment."
Cotter requested and received approval from the EPA to accept 11e(2)
waste for disposal into its tailings in August 2000.
Cotter can accept (Superfund) waste directly into their primary
and secondary impoundment units," said Brown. "From our
position, once we determine that a unit is acceptable based on its
status and release history, we basically defer to the primary regulatory
authority, in this case the state health department."
Because the approval only applies to Cotter's tailings impoundment,
Brown said, the Maywood material must technically be loaded off
railcars directly into the tailings ponds because storage pads and
processing facilities are not permitted for Superfund waste.
According to Ken Weaver, a health physicist with the Colorado Department
of Public Health and Environment's radiation services program, by
their nature, uranium and thorium tailings contain heavy metals
and chemicals used in the extraction process.
Even though hazardous waste criteria don't apply to the Maywood
soil because it is defined as 11e(2) material, Weaver said the state
still "closely examined data" from sampling "in part,
due to expressed concern that chemicals from Stepan Chemical Co.
might have been mixed with the thorium tailings."
He said an April 2002 waste profile from Stone & Webster, the
contractor cleaning up the Maywood site, "confirms that few
trace inorganic metals or organic chemicals are present" in
the first 40,000 cubic yards proposed for shipment to Cotter.
the results are non-detects, in background range or a minor fraction
of criteria relevant for comparison," he said.
Weaver also was confident that the original soil tainted with thorium
is not mingled with chemically-laden dirt from the Stepan property.
Chemical is not in the units that are being cleaned up right now,"
he said. "The thorium process had its own independent tailings
location. The stockpile is separate."
And if there are any doubts about hazardous chemicals tainting the
Maywood soil, Weaver said the state health department has the prerogative
to require samples for its own testing.
department's laboratory is fully capable of analyzing for both radiological
and non-radiological constituents," he said.
According to the Army Corps' Roos, even though there has already
been extensive sampling of the Maywood soil, the most critical soil
analysis will not happen until the material is ready for shipment.
the idea behind sampling is just to characterize the soil and get
an idea of what's out there," he said. "We have a range
of chemicals we have to test for, and we want to be sure that what
we're saying is in there is actually in there."
we would dispose of that material it will be tested again to meet
the waste acceptance criteria."
In July, Cotter also asked EPA to declare three of its ore storage
pads and its chemical circuits as acceptable for processing Superfund
waste - contaminated with uranium - from a site on Long Island.
Brown said it was too early to say whether Cotter's current violations
will affect the company's request.
sense is that a lot of the violations are in the worker health and
safety area, and that's not really in our purview," he said.
"We're mainly concerned with off-site impacts on public health
and the environment."
Still, Brown said, because of the past problems at Cotter, "we'll
want to take a close, serious look at the issues in the Notice of
According to Ed Als, a remedial project manager for the EPA's Region
2 office in New York City, the agency has determined that the so-called
Li Tungsten material shouldn't be regulated as a hazardous waste.
would certainly characterize it as low level," he said. "What
we have out there
ranges from 30 to 50 picocuries per gram,
and up to hundreds of picocuries per gram in several places, but
we don't have anything hotter than that."
The Li Tungsten site also has heavy metal contamination. According
to Als, three out of about five dozen soil samples failed the toxicity
test for lead.
means the area where the material is over the RCRA standard is compromised,
so it might have to go to a different facilty," Als said.
The remainder of the material, however, is appropriate for any facility
authorized to accept 11e(2) material and the EPA's responsibility
is in making sure the site is cleaned up on schedule, not which
specific waste facility the material goes to.
basically tell the PRPs (potentially responsible parties) to get
rid of the stuff," he said. "They tell us where they're
going to send it and then we check with the agencies there to make
sure there are no problems and sign off on the plans to ship it."
Because the Region 8 office of the EPA in Denver has not yet approved
Cotter's request, however, receipt of the Li Tungsten waste is on
have private parties here that basically want to wait for Cotter
to get its approval, but we have a problem with that," said
Als. "We're sitting around waiting too long. We want the stuff
care where it goes, but we don't like being in limbo."