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Guilty Knowledge – PULP’s three month investigation into pollution at the old Colorado Smelter Site

In the ruins of the old Colorado Smelter lies a few bricks, a slag heap and the struggle to know how to protect a community.

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In the ruins of the old Colorado Smelter lies a few bricks, a slag heap and the struggle to know how to protect a community.

Part One

0. The Investigation

 

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 qui…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

In the ruins of the old Colorado Smelter lies a few bricks, a slag heap and the struggle to know how to protect a community.

Part One

0. The Investigation

 

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 and State of Colorado’s top scientists, local healthcare leaders, and academics warn slag and toxic waste are a very real danger to public health for Pueblo which sit invisibly in the soil, taking the form of arsenic and lead contamination.  

In revisiting the issue of lead and arsenic contamination near the site of the old Colorado Smelter, including the Bessemer and Eilers neighborhoods, it seems in order to start at the beginning.  

 1. The Old Colorado Smelter

Sites such as this weren’t uncommon in the golden age of Pueblo’s steel industry. This image is from the 1950s where slag is being dumped east of the CF&I. This scene would be similar at the Colorado Smelter, just north of the current Eiler’s neighborhood, where the smelter dumped slag into a nearby ravine. The smelter ceased operations in 1908 but the slag remained. Photo courtesy the Bessemer Historical Society / CF&I Archives. 

Sites such as this weren’t uncommon in the golden age of Pueblo’s steel industry. This image is from the 1950s where slag is being dumped east of the CF&I. This scene would be similar at the Colorado Smelter, just north of the current Eiler’s neighborhood, where the smelter dumped slag into a nearby ravine. The smelter ceased operations in 1908 but the slag remained. Photo courtesy the Bessemer Historical Society / CF&I Archives. 

The Colorado Smelting Company  (Eilers Smelter) began operating in 1883. It was constructed in a ravine between Santa Fe Avenue and the D&RG railroad tracks near what is now I-25. The owners of the Madonna Mine, located in Monarch, built the Colorado Smelter in order to smelt the extracted silver-lead ore in a cost effective manner.  

By 1889 the smelter operation consisted of eight blast furnaces, along with two furnaces for desulphurization of ores and one fusing furnace used to slag the flue dust. Twenty kilns were used to desulphur crushed matter from the blast furnaces.  The blast furnace smokestack stood 132 feet tall.  

During the years of smelter operation, various heavy metal contaminants were exhausted through the smoke stacks and dispersed through the air pathway onto the surface soils near the site.

The Colorado Smelter closed in 1908. Some of the slag from the smelter was used as track ballast for the D&RG track constructed between Florence and Canon City.  In 1923, bricks from the blast furnace smoke stack were used to construct the St. Mary School.  At present, there are still large slag piles in the ravine at the Colorado Smelter site. The nearest residence is located approximately 200 feet from the Colorado Smelter slag heap.  

An estimated 3,500 acres of wetlands are located within four miles of the Colorado Smelter site, including Runyon Lake.  This area is a designated State Wildlife Area, and is located between one quarter and one-mile northeast of the smelter site.  

The Arkansas River Valley, east of the smelter site, has been classified as a potential conservation area due to its rich biodiversity.  Several threatened or endangered species call Pueblo’s ecosystems home.  

Metals including cadmium, arsenic, lead and zinc have been found at alarming levels in residential areas surrounding the Colorado Smelter site.

2. Study of the site – How it all started

In 1989, a passerby noticed orange slug coming out of the Santa Fe Ave. culvert. This photo was taken January 2013, over twenty years after someone alerted officials of the discharge. Just yards away sits the St. Charles Mesa intake.

In 1989, a passerby noticed orange slug coming out of the Santa Fe Ave. culvert. This photo was taken January 2013, over twenty years after someone alerted officials of the discharge. Just yards away sits the St. Charles Mesa intake.

1989: Red Discharge in the Arkansas and the Pueblo County Health Department

Scientific attention was originally directed at the region near sites of Pueblo’s old smelters in 1989 when a concerned citizen reported, to the Pueblo County Health Department, seeing a red-orange discharge into the Arkansas River coming from an eighteen inch culvert.  This culvert extends from the levee on the south side of the Arkansas River, directly below the Santa Fe Avenue Bridge.  Pueblo County proceeded to collect a grab sample of the discharge on September 26, 1989.

Results of the first samples confirmed that there were in fact elevated concentrations of several metals in the flow coming from the Santa Fe Bridge culvert. This information was reported to the CDPHE.

1991: A Preliminary Assessment of Pueblo and a History of Smelting

A preliminary assessment of the geology, climate, wildlife, ecosystems, population, and history of Pueblo near the Santa Fe Bridge culvert area was compiled by the CDPHE in 1991, preceding further sampling and inspection.

CDPHE discovered that six smelters had operated in the vicinity of the Santa Fe Bridge culvert between 1878 and 1921.  The sites of these old …

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  1. Mistie Mosely

    June 21, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Excellent piece ! Just to add my thoughts if you a a form , my business saw a sample version here http://goo.gl/oqnQcM

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Alive and Well: Despite layoffs, a Southern Colorado hospital battles perception it’s closing

Six months after staff eliminations and attrition, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is battling the perception that it’s closing.

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A robot-like concentration on five clinical areas, a recent expansion to its Flight For Life Colorado fleet, a new urgent care facility in Pueblo West, and even an ongoing plan to improve parking at its main Pueblo facility is a sign that St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is thriving after its reorganization.

That didn’t seem to be the case about six months ago when, back in April, 275 positions were eliminated at the hospital and other employees left their jobs voluntarily – and St. Mary-Corwin CEO Mike Cafasso canvassed the local media trying to quell rumors that the hospital was closing.

“Our biggest challenge in the past few months has been the misinformation in Pueblo and the surrounding communities,” Cafasso said. “The biggest thing we hear is that people think the hospital is closed or that our ER is closed. … Our ER continues to offer 24-hour emergency room services. Wait times average less than 30 minutes in our ER and 88 percent of the patients treated in the St. Mary-Corwin ER do not need to be admitted to the hospital or transferred. These patients are treated, released and go home with their families, usually within a couple of hours of arriving.”

As for the employees who lost their jobs, Cafasso boasts that by mid-June nearly 90 percent of the 275 workers who had their jobs eliminated found new jobs elsewhere. “We hosted numerous job fairs and many of our associates found roles at other Centura facilities,” the CEO adds.

But even Cafasso admits it is “no secret” that times were tough at the hospital earlier this year. “Now, six months later, some of those associates who chose to leave (on their own terms, not part of the layoffs) are returning to St. Mary-Corwin,” he said. “To be clear, we are not filling the positions that were eliminated but instead, as we grow orthopedics and oncology services and align our new nursing unit, new positions have been created and those positions need to be filled. It is heartwarming to see people come back to work at St. Mary-Corwin. We feel we are a stronger workforce having gone through the challenging times, and are excited for what the future holds for us here at St. Mary-Corwin.”

Yet the rumors of St. Mary-Corwin’s demise persist. And St. Mary Corwin’s staff confronted those rumors by hosting a booth on Sept. 1 at the Colorado State Fair at which they passed out fresh fruit as a means of engaging the community. “That’s just one example of how we have been talking to people – one-on-one – answering questions and dispelling rumors. St. Mary-Corwin has been part of the Pueblo community for 135 years. Yes, we may look a little bit different than we did a year ago, but we are committed to Pueblo and Southern Colorado.”

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TL: DR You can read this article right now and not pay a thing. Should you read $5 worth of our content we’ll ask you to make a contribution to keep local journalism strong. 

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

A robot-like concentration on five clinical areas, a recent expansion to its Flight For Life Colorado fleet, a new urgent care facility in Pueblo West, and even an ongoing plan to improve parking at its main Pueblo facility is a sign that St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is thriving after its reorganization.
That didn’t seem to be the case about six months ago when, back in April, 275 positions were eliminated at the hospital and other employees left their jobs voluntarily – and St. Mary-Corwin CEO Mike Cafasso canvassed the local media trying to quell rumors that the hospital was closing.
“Our biggest challenge in the past few months has been the misinformation in Pueblo and the surrounding communities,” Cafasso said. “The biggest thing we hear is that people think the hospital is closed or that our ER is closed. … Our ER continues to offer 24-hour emergency room services. Wait times average less than 30 minutes in our ER and 88 percent of the patients treated in the St. Mary-Corwin ER do not need to be admitted to the hospital or transferred. These patients are treated, released and go home with their families, usually within a couple of hours of arriving.”
As for the employees who lost their jobs, Cafasso boasts that by mid-June nearly 90 percent of the 275 workers who had their jobs eliminated found new jobs elsewhere. “We hosted numerous job fairs and many of our associates found roles at other Centura facilities,” the CEO adds.
But even Cafasso admits it is “no secret” that times were tough at the hospital earlier this year. “Now, six months later, some of those associates who chose to leave (on their own terms, not part of the layoffs) are returning to St. Mary-Corwin,” he said. “To be clear, we are not filling the positions that were eliminated but instead, as we grow orthopedics and oncology services and align our new nursing unit, new positions have been created and those positions need to be filled. It is heartwarming to see people come back to work at St. Mary-Corwin. We feel we are a stronger workforce having gone through the challenging times, and are excited for what the future holds for us here at St. Mary-Corwin.”
Yet the rumors of St. Mary-Corwin’s demise persist. And St. Mary Corwin’s staff confronted those rumors by hosting a booth on Sept. 1 at the Colorado State Fair at which they passed out fresh fruit as a means of engaging the community. “That’s just one example of how we have been talking to people – one-on-one – answering questions and dispelling rumors. St. Mary-Corwin has been part of the Pueblo community for 135 years. Yes, we may look a little bit different than we did a year ago, but we are committed to Pueblo and Southern Colorado.”

What’s different?

Pulp asked Cafasso to give as many details as he could about the hospital’s future plans.
During the transition since the layoffs, he said the hospital has zoomed in on five areas of concentration – refocusing on these areas, which he believes are St. Mary-Corwin’s “clinical strength.” The first is orthopedics, which includes joint replacement procedures and sports medicine. The hospital has an inpatient unit dedicated to joint replacement – and as Cafasso put it, the dedicated unit “expands patients’ access to leading-edge techniques and the most advanced technology.”
The second area of clinical specialization is cancer and breast care. The hospital’s Dorcy Center provides screening, diagnosis, and treatment with surgery, radiation therapy, radiation and medical oncology, chemotherapy, and an ambulatory infusion center. And the St. Mary-Corwin Breast Center of Excellence provides mammography screening, breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in partnership with the Dorcy Cancer Center.
Emergency and trauma services make up the third area of focus at St. Mary-Corwin. The facility provides 24-hour emergency room services and a Level III Trauma Center with general surgery, orthopedic surgery and full-time anesthesia coverage. Flight For Life Colorado provides life-saving services across Southern Colorado and operates from St. Mary-Corwin with ground and air transport.
The hospital’s third area of concentration is emergency and trauma services. They include 24-hour emergency room services and a Level III Trauma Center with general surgery, orthopedic surgery and full-time anesth…
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The Rural Broadband Push to Close Colorado’s Digital Divide

In small towns across Southeast Colorado it’s a story of expensive fast internet and little to no access to high-speed broadband.

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Colorado’s rural residents face a digital divide. When houses and buildings are widely scattered, so is the infrastructure designed to deliver internet data. The equipment needed for high-speed internet simply doesn’t exist in many rural areas.

Rural residents are offered slower, more expensive internet options than their urban counterparts.

Randy Reed noticed a difference when he found a new home near Bailey, a small community in Park County. The few internet service packages available to Randy in Bailey were slower and more expensive than the options in Denver. “The fastest is about 20 Mbps,” Reed said.

Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (mbps). The Federal Communications Commission explains that moderate internet activities, such as watching streaming videos or playing games online, require speeds of 12 to 25 mbps. Households or businesses with multiple computers need more mbps to deliver video conferencing or fast downloads of applications.

Internet service at 25 Mpbs is considered high-speed for a typical household, delivering smooth video and loading web pages quickly on multiple computers.

“When we’re talking about broadband in rural areas, we have to talk about infrastructure. It’s the same thing for me as water pipes being past their life expectancies,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad.

Pillard said residents from Trinidad and surrounding Las Animas County visit the library regularly to take advantage of internet access.

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Colorado’s rural residents face a digital divide. When houses and buildings are widely scattered, so is the infrastructure designed to deliver internet data. The equipment needed for high-speed internet simply doesn’t exist in many rural areas.
Rural residents are offered slower, more expensive internet options than their urban counterparts.
Randy Reed noticed a difference when he found a new home near Bailey, a small community in Park County. The few internet service packages available to Randy in Bailey were slower and more expensive than the options in Denver. “The fastest is about 20 Mbps,” Reed said.
Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (mbps). The Federal Communications Commission explains that moderate internet activities, such as watching streaming videos or playing games online, require speeds of 12 to 25 mbps. Households or businesses with multiple computers need more mbps to deliver video conferencing or fast downloads of applications.
Internet service at 25 Mpbs is considered high-speed for a typical household, delivering smooth video and loading web pages quickly on multiple computers.
“When we’re talking about broadband in rural areas, we have to talk about infrastructure. It’s the same thing for me as water pipes being past their life expectancies,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad.
Pillard said residents from Trinidad and surrounding Las Animas County visit the library regularly to take advantage of internet access.
“Streaming is a big issue almost as soon as you get out of town,” said Pillard. She explained watching a single television episode on Netflix would be a challenge on a limited rural data plan.
In Colorado, the difference in internet speed availability between metropolitan and rural speeds is stark. In Front Range counties like Denver, Arapahoe, and Douglas, over 95% of residents can choose to subscribe to internet providers offering at least 25 mbps.
In Crowley County, only 1.8% of residents are offered similar internet speeds.
Even when high-speed internet access is available, the service costs more for rural subscribers.
In metro areas of Colorado, a basic internet package from a major provider like CenturyLink or Xfinity averages around $45 per month, with speeds up to 60 Mpbs.
Major services like CenturyLink don’t reach the eastern plains town of Kit Carson in Cheyenne County. Kit Carson residents can choose from a few internet providers, including Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association.
Eastern Slope’s service area stretches from the town of Bennett in Adams County about 35 miles east of Denver, to Eads in Kiowa County east of Pueblo. In 2017, Eastern Slope undertook a project to expand fiber access to residents of towns like Bennett. They offer eastern Colorado residents plans starting around $40 monthly – but at speeds of only 4 Mpbs.
To get speeds of 12 Mbps, the threshold for medium service set by the FCC, Kit Carson residents would need to pay at least $90 per month. Speeds up to 60 Mpbs, like those available to urban Colorado internet users, simply aren’t available.
High-speed internet depends on an infrastructure of cables reaching each building that needs internet service. Almost every home and business is connected by copper telephone cables, which can provide internet access at slower dial-up speeds in a service called Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL.
Faster internet speeds can be delivered over more modern cables, like fiber optics – but the installation of new cables can be costly.
Internet service companies prioritize installing new cables where they anticipate customers will subscribe to their ser…
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The allure of small parks like Pueblo Mountain Park

It’s time to rediscover why a small park like Pueblo Mountain Park is important to outdoor life.

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If you thought the only officially sanctioned outdoor recreation area that Pueblo had to offer was Lake Pueblo, think again. When imagining Pueblo, visions of pine-covered mountains and thick evergreen forestry don’t necessarily come to mind. There really isn’t a place in Pueblo where you can go hiking – in the traditional sense. Unless you count dodging rattlesnakes out on the trails around the reservoir “hiking.”

But I’m talking about the kind of hiking where pine needles crunch beneath each step, where the bark of ponderosas makes the air smell like vanilla. Hiking that involves changes in elevation, in surroundings and in heart rate. And if you too crave this breed of hiking experience but suffer a loss of enthusiasm knowing you may have to travel 30+ minutes to satisfy it, then you’re in for a treat to savor an old favorite.

Nestled in the southern foothills of Colorado just outside of Beulah is Pueblo Mountain Park: a 611-acre piece of land owned by the City of Pueblo and managed by the Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC). The drive is 20-25 minutes and while making it a conveniently close hiking spot that eases the stress of planning around travel time.

There are approximately six miles of hiking trails through the Wet Mountains in Pueblo Mountain Park that connect with and loop around one another to give you options for a shorter or longer hike. Two of the trails at the west end of the park connect with San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail on which you may access the nearly 17,000 additional acres of San Isabel National Forest land…

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the “Last Locals” in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism produced by the best writers in Colorado. But that costs money, time and hard work. So enjoy this article right now, and if you read $5 worth of PULP, we’ll ask you to make a small contribution to PULP and writers like Madison Gill.

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

If you thought the only officially sanctioned outdoor recreation area that Pueblo had to offer was Lake Pueblo, think again. When imagining Pueblo, visions of pine-covered mountains and thick evergreen forestry don’t necessarily come to mind. There really isn’t a place in Pueblo where you can go hiking – in the traditional sense. Unless you count dodging rattlesnakes out on the trails around the reservoir “hiking.”
But I’m talking about the kind of hiking where pine needles crunch beneath each step, where the bark of ponderosas makes the air smell like vanilla. Hiking that involves changes in elevation, in surroundings and in heart rate. And if you too crave this breed of hiking experience but suffer a loss of enthusiasm knowing you may have to travel 30+ minutes to satisfy it, then you’re in for a treat to savor an old favorite.
Nestled in the southern foothills of Colorado just outside of Beulah is Pueblo Mountain Park: a 611-acre piece of land owned by the City of Pueblo and managed by the Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC). The drive is 20-25 minutes and while making it a conveniently close hiking spot that eases the stress of planning around travel time.
There are approximately six miles of hiking trails through the Wet Mountains in Pueblo Mountain Park that connect with and loop around one another to give you options for a shorter or longer hike. Two of the trails at the west end of the park connect with San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail on which you may access the nearly 17,000 additional acres of San Isabel National Forest land.
There are four main trailheads at Pueblo Mountain Park. Devil’s Canyon Trail is the most popular, following the path of a seasonal drainage called Devil’s Dribble. After about a half a mile of easy hiking beneath the shade of the pines, this trail cuts directly through a small canyon, requiring hikers to scramble up jutting sandstone rocks and fallen trees along the Dribble to reach the checkpoint to link up with either Mace Trail or Northridge Trail.
On Mace Trail, you can get to Lookout Point where all that stands between you and the panoramic views of the valley below, the mountains above and San Isabel beyond is a guard rail fixed to the edge of a cliff. Northridge Trail is the longest trail in the park and one that connects to San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail. The terrain of Northridge Trail changes rapidly: one moment in the dry and rocky semi-desert plains freckled with juniper and pinyon, another gazing down from above the treeline at a green sea of Douglas firs huddled shoulder-to-shoulder. Tower Trail is another that accesses Squirrel Creek Trail, but its main attraction is Fire Tower: built in the 1930’s as a fire lookout but never officially used. Fire Tower marks the highest point in the park at 7,400 feet.
Pueblo Mountain Park has b…
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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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