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Coming in February – Guilty Knowledge: A century of pollution and the contentious effort to clean it up.

Orange sludge flows into the Arkansas River from the Santa Fe Culvert along the Arkansas. Health Experts claim arsenic and lead is polluting the area and want to clean it up. City officials are on the fence.
Orange sludge flows into the Arkansas River from the Santa Fe Culvert along the Arkansas. Health Experts claim arsenic and lead is polluting the area and want to clean it up. City officials are on the fence.

For three months PULP has been investigating pollution from the Old Colorado Smelter, also known as the Eiler’s Smelter. PULP has interviewed Federal, State and Local health officials as well as members of the Pueblo City Council. This is brief preview of the full article, Guilty Knowledge, that will appear in the print and online editions of February’s PULP. We will be posting excerpts of the article all week long.

Much of
the brick and mortar that was Pueblo’s Industrial Cerberus lay in ruins on the
city’s south-side; the neighborhoods that sustained the once titanous Colorado
Smelter have since their revolutionary age quieted; a necropolis of hills of
slag remain and have become commonplace; and to Puebloans the old slag piles
and waste around the sites of the city’s historic steel mill and smelters
hardly even register to the senses as they drive past them on the way to work
or home. 

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)
and state of Colorado’s best scientists, local healthcare leaders, and
academics warn slag and toxic waste are a very real danger to public health for
Pueblo, and might be the iceberg’s tip of a much more robust landscape of
pollution, which sits invisibly in the soil, taking the form of arsenic and
lead contamination.

The issue
of lead and arsenic contamination in the soil of neighborhoods around Pueblo
most recently entered public consciousness with the EPA’s 2010 study of
hazardous metal concentrations in soil around the Bessemer and Eilers
neighborhoods.  The study showed of the seventy-eight samples collected
seventy-three contained levels of metals that exceeded the cancer risk
threshold and Superfund threshold, i.e., the federal environmental cleanup
process.  Two metals detected at poisonous and carcinogenic concentrations
were arsenic and lead.  Other metals found at levels between one and three
times the Pueblo soil averages were cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc.

The disturbing 2010 research compiled by the EPA and
the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is neither the
first nor the only data that brings to attention the issue of soil and surface
water contamination on Pueblo’s south-side associated with historic
steel-making and smelting operations.  In fact, there exists extensive
data documenting soil and some surface water contamination of Pueblo south-side
that spans over twenty years.  

From a
public health perspective lead and arsenic contamination in residential areas
is extremely problematic.


Lead poisoning affects nearly every system in the
body, and often occurs without noticeable symptoms. Arsenic is the highest
priority and most poisonous chemical listed on the EPA’s Priority List of
Hazardous Substances.

What will
follow is an in depth investigation into not only where City, State, and
Federal leaders currently stand on how to move forward with the issue of lead
and arsenic contamination from the Colorado Smelter, but also in doing so to
present a portrait of the internal dynamics of local leadership and
decision-making in the face of potentially major public health dangers.

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