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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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4/24/2012 9:56:00 PM
Assessing the damage: Contamination cleanup, health studies continue in Dewey-Humboldt
Sue Tone/Courtesy photo
Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency look over the slag pile at the Humboldt smelter, part of the Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt in August 2011. The agency uses 
a temporary soil sealant on ash piles left at the smelter to help in dust suppression efforts.
Sue Tone/Courtesy photo
Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency look over the slag pile at the Humboldt smelter, part of the Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt in August 2011. The agency uses a temporary soil sealant on ash piles left at the smelter to help in dust suppression efforts.
Sue Tone/courtesy photo
Sue Ellen Valle, phlebotomist, at right, collects a blood sample from Dewey native Miah Eckel, 14, as her brother Rannin Moore, 15, awaits his turn at the Humboldt Elementary School gym on April 19.
Sue Tone/courtesy photo
Sue Ellen Valle, phlebotomist, at right, collects a blood sample from Dewey native Miah Eckel, 14, as her brother Rannin Moore, 15, awaits his turn at the Humboldt Elementary School gym on April 19.
Special to the Courier

About 40 people showed up at the Humboldt Elementary School gym Wednesday to hear an update on the Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt and to meet one-on-one with people from six agencies or groups - from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to a D-H environmental advisory committee.

Jeff Dhont, remedial project manager for the EPA, offered an update on past and recent efforts to locate, measure and clean up contamination from the Iron King Mine on the west side of Highway 69 and the Humboldt smelter on the east side. The EPA declared the two areas eligible for cleanup as a Superfund site in 2008. The agency is still in the remedial investigation phase of the process, but already has taken cleanup action in areas with high contamination levels.

In 2006, the EPA removed from residents' yards soil that contained elevated levels of arsenic and replaced it with clean soil. Twelve residential yard cleanups near the smelter took place in 2011, and the EPA scientists have taken 184 soil samples from residents' yards.

Soil sampling efforts recently have expanded to the northeast and northwest of town to determine what levels of arsenic and lead occur naturally in the area.

Dhont said test results indicated low levels of lead on both sides of Highway 69, with slightly elevated levels near the smelter stack.

Arsenic levels tended to be higher on the east side of the highway, including a hot spot at the former smelter rail loading area.

Working with the EPA is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a partner with the Center for Disease Control out of Atlanta.

This past Thursday, ATSDR and Arizona Department of Health Services personnel offered blood lead-level tests for local youths. The test consisted of a finger prick to produce a couple of drops of blood that go into a blood lead analyzer.

Parents received test results immediately. Capt. Robert Knowles from ATSDR said if a child has a level greater than 5 grams per deciliter (g/dL), that child should get a venous blood test (taken from a vein in the arm) to confirm the levels. The screening that he does is to answer any concerns quickly in the short term. The full metal test takes longer, is more complicated, and costs more, he said, adding that the CDC recommends all children aged 6 and younger be tested for lead levels.

EPA continues to collect additional soil and groundwater samples at the Iron King Mine tailings pile. It also recently re-applied a temporary soil sealant called Gorilla Snot to the ash piles at the smelter to help contain dust emissions.

Re-vegetation project

Raina Maier, Ph.D., reported on the re-vegetation project taking place on top the main tailings pile at the Iron King Mine. The project began two years ago through the Superfund Research Program at the University of Arizona.

"The plants are thriving far beyond my imagination," Maier said.

North American Industries, the property owners, are supplying irrigation water from one of the on-site wells. Maier said preliminary results indicate that the plants have reduced airborne dust from the tailings by 60 percent. She will be repeating the tests to verify results, she said.

"The next big question is: If we stop irrigation, will the plants survive?" Maier said.

Dr. Walt Klimecki, head of the Metals Exposure Study in Homes, said he has hired four local residents to work with families with children ages 1 to 11 living within 3 miles of the mine or smelter. His study will determine if exposure to contaminants is leading to health effects in children.

David Cooper, EPA community involvement coordinator, said he structured the meeting so people could ask their questions of the professionals after the updates. Some in the audience favored a more public question-and-answer period for everyone's benefit. Cooper said after the previous community EPA meeting, he received comments from attendees requesting their individual questions be answered one-on-one.

Sue Tone is a reporter for the Prescott Valley Tribune.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2012
Article comment by: Enough is Enough

@ Science - Finally, someone brings some calmness to this debate. When we have issues and controversy to deal with, running around pointing fingers, calling people liars and filing lawsuits is not the productive way to resolve them.

If we lose faith in ourselves in handling situations as these when they arise, then as a society, we will fail. Watching and listening to neighbors fight against neighbors and residents against businesses was not the scenario I envisioned when I moved to this area over twenty years ago.

As a former teacher, I am appalled by the behavior that I have witnessed in this town. I have kept silent, hoping that cooler heads would prevail, I guess only time will tell. For our community, I hope it comes sooner than later

Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Article comment by: Science and Some Common Sense

First and foremost, I do not work at the mine or own the mine (which closed approximately 40 years ago). Secondly, young Ms. Preston has brought much of this ... debate upon herself simply by not knowing and understanding the "real" science. She, alone, has done the personal attacking when she decided to start YELLING at every person, group, agency and business that is involved with the Superfund site.

This area of Yavapai County is known for its unique mineralogy and this is where so many misunderstandings begin. The area is made up of galena (PbS) and arsenopyrite (FeAsS) and if you were to test yards throughout the state, you will find these elements. To make the statement that the entire Superfund site is contaminated with lead (Pb) and arsenic (As) is completely wrong. I have looked through most of the available reports (some of them from before the time Ms. Preston was born), that have scientifically proven these statements as well as the EPA explanation between the difference between the minerals and metals. To change galena and arsenopyrite into lead and arsenic takes extreme measures to do so. For a human to uptake these it must be bio-available. Naturally occurring elements are everywhere (not just in our community) throughout our state both in our soils and waters.

I'm not saying that "there isn't a problem", there are areas that need to be cleaned up because of how the original operators of those specific areas were mining and smelting the ore. You state that "Ashley is not the one responsible", but she insists that current property owners are yet, not one of those property owners were responsible for mining the ore or smelting the ore, which is the root cause of this issue.

The EPA has not come out with any final reports what they have come out with is reports based on preliminary studies. The EPA considers all dust "hazardous" and a "nuisance" and that is consistent wherever you live in the US. If you drive down any dirt street in Arizona, drive by sand/gravel operations, pass any farmland you will see dust in the air, is it a nuisance--yes is it considered hazardous (by EPA standards)--yes is it ALWAYS considered toxic--no.

Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Article comment by: to lead and arsenic

The contaminant levels that might exist have been there for many decades. There is really no way to clean up such a large site without creating even more fugitive pollution. So when it was discovered that there may be a real hazard that could effect the health of their children, instead of moving at any cost the parents dig in their heels and set up shop for a long term lawsuit. How much money makes it worth staying? Yes, I know ... can't afford to move. Well, in life you either plan on moving or plan on staying. Your children will be all grown up before this lawsuit is over. I read the suit and the people who "said" everything was OK are not even mentioned in it. Aren't they the only ones claimed to have wronged anyone? I'm curious, where does the momma who bought the house fit into all this?

Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012
Article comment by: lead,arsenic d-h resident

I have read many of these attacks, and I am assuming that MAYBE it could be really people that either work at the mine or own it?
and to all the other's...really do you know what lead or arsenic does to you? honestly? well here is a lil taste for ya all ... that keep ATTACKING the wrong person attack the ones responsible Ashley is not the one responsible, she is opening the eyes of all. So as I was always told. before you speak, you better have something to back it up and know what you are talking about and apparently ya'll do not,
Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil.Arsenic is a metalloid element, which forms a number of poisonous compounds. It is widely distributed throughout the earth’s crust, and is found in groundwater supplies in a number of countries.

Long-term human exposure, through drinking of contaminated water, is an important public health problem in some regions and countries, and is associated with cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney. Acute arsenic poisoning produces vomiting, esophageal and abdominal pain, and bloody “rice water” diarrhea.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: To Ashley Preston

Are you talking plants or bank accounts as to what is/will be thriving?

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Travis T.

@Donnie Baker: Maybe I searched for homes on the internet, like 95% of people these days.

And just maybe when I came out to look at the homes, maybe that's when I saw the smokestack...

Your LOLs really are quite ironic... LOL.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: K. M.

To address Mrs. Snodgrass’s comments regarding “To the person/ people that are questioning Ashleys agenda please explain to me why you are not posting your real name and what exactly is your involvement in our community? Do you live here? Do you have children that attend HES?”.

This is a question that should also be asked of the people involved with the EIAC group in D-H. Why are there people who do not live in D-H on this committee as well as being part of the original vocal mouthpieces on this topic? Why are persons who do not live in D-H involved with the complaint? So before you start questioning others, shouldn’t the same be asked of these people? By the way, I had a son who played in and around the tailings as a child and a daughter who attended HES and they are in their mid to late 20’s and both are happy and healthy young adults. As for why some people do not post with their real name…..I’ve lived around here long enough to know the answer to that one!

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Ashley Preston

Dr. Raina did say that...but it also says they don't know what will happen after they stop irrigating it...So you tell me this...Do you see anything else "thriving" anywhere around the mine tailings or smelter?!?

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Andy Anderson

$370 million seems like an awfully great sum of money for someone who doesn't even live on contaminated soil. Curious how that will work out.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: To Be Careful

It's starting to sound more like a "shake-down" than anything else!

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Question to Ms. Preston

In the article, Dr. Raina Maier states, "The plants are thriving far beyond my imagination" These are the plants that are being grown on top of the tailings pile, the same tailings pile that you and your group claim to be toxic. Can you explain that logic?

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: donnie baker

@ Travis T.
So you found some great deals in Humboldt..., then you saw the BIG smoke stack? LOL If you're so intelligent , then why did you even stay and look and find great deals in the first place?. I don't believe your claim that you saw the smoke stack afterwards! The thing is huge and can be seen from 10+ miles away!!LOL I suppose you didn't see the huge yellow dirt pile on the other side of the highway either (also seen from 10+ miles away) LOL
.... Do you think the Humboldt Elementary School is "ignorant" also for placing a school near the area? It is a great school and ranked #1 in many categories in the state!! I can tell you didnt attend this school because they teach manners there also....

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Newly Retired

It sure seems interesting that people who just recently became residents of D-H (10 yrs or less) and moved here from out of state, have contributed to the slow dismantling of our community with their un-documented rumors and scare-tactics. Shame on you and your personal selfishness. We were all fine before they started to meddle (I too have seen all the reports-especially those dating well before any of those residents arrived in town) There are always issues with every community and every environment and for centuries and decades, we have dealt with them as a whole. However, a small group has decided that won't work for them. I surely hope that this small group of people are eventually held liable for making false claims and statements (especially when the final reports are made public - which hasn't happened yet) Now, that is the truth!

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Mrs Snodgrass

I have lived in this community for 32 years, as a child (not knowing the dangers) my friends and I played in the caves under the smelter, the bright orange dirt down from the smelter as well as actually inside the smelter. I attended the last EPA meeting and the community just wanted their questions answered, not job descriptions of each agency that attened. Attacking Ashley is not going to solve anything for this community, all she is seeking is the truth and the numbers of what we are really being exposed to on a daily basis. To the person/ people that are questioning Ashleys agenda please explain to me why you are not posting your real name and what exactly is your involvement in our community? Do you live here? Do you have children that attend HES?

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: @Ms. Preston

I've lived in the area for over 20+ years, know plenty of residents who were born, lived and worked here for 50+ years without any issues at all. Travis is do you move to an area with blinders on? Are you that gullable? Maybe that is the reason you could be so easily swayed and convinced by a few in the area (some of which don't even live in D-H) who have been on a personal mission with a personal agenda in all of this.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Ashley Preston

Why would the courier leave out my comment explaining the lawsuit??? THis is why false information is circulating through our community!!!!!

Editor's Note -- The article comments are designed to be opinions. We have a reporter working on a story about the lawsuit.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Ashley Preston

To Travis T: Because when we bought we were told their was no problem with with many other very intelligent people..I guess our fault was believing what we were told..But I am glad your family doesn't have to suffer what most families in our community are suffering through..and what about the people that have lived here for 50 plus years? Sorry about your bad luck? But if you had bought a house here without knowing, I bet you would feel different.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Travis T.

When I was looking in this area for a home to buy, I found some great deals in the Dewey-Humboldt area.

Then I saw the old smokestack and asked what it was. When I was told that it was an old smelter site, I stopped considering homes in the area.

Why? Because I am a reasonably intelligent person that recognized the potential contamination and health risks associated with an old smelter site.

Anyone who purchased a home in the area after the smelter was built should not be receiving a dime for their ignorance...

How could anyone with above a grade-school level education not realize that buying a home in an area like this would not be a good idea?

Ms. Preston better hope I am not on the jury that decides her case...

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: Be Careful For What You Wish For

Word has it that these lawyers are of the "ambulance chasing" type, the ones you see advertised on late night TV. Co-council is connected to the Sierra Club and "the arts" such a coincidence since a couple members of the EIAC just happen to have those same interests. Very Interesting. Is that part of the truth that you speak of? Remember, be careful what you wish for - in fact, that is one of the reasons why the town is in this mess anyway.

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Article comment by: 370 million?

Really? Where's my share? Oh wait, after the attorney takes his 25 to 33%, and everyone that Ms. Preston has incorporated in order to make this class action lawsuit, (which most of these people are probably not even affected by any of the Superfund site and it's contaminants), there would be nothing left for the people who really do deserve the money for their losses and future health. What a shame, because I really thought there was some justice in this world.

Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Article comment by: jeff thomas

amen started off great with 6 agencies or groups rite?

Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Article comment by: To Ashley Preston Again

You state that the EPA is not here for public health, but that they are here merely for the "environment." You stated in you first letter that the EPA states that "they aren't finding levels that high." So if it that is the case then why are they here? The fact is, they are here because the ADEQ was not moving fast enough regarding their research on the IK Mine and Smelter, all the while homes where being built on or near both sites and the "potential" health risks to the community was the EPA's main concern. Would you not agree?

As far as you giving out your email to inform those whom speak out on an article regarding the EPA, it is not informing "everyone," it merely informs those of whom you address your statement to, and perhaps the few people you come in contact with. The thing is Ms. Preston, you may not have allot of space in this forum, but you can put links to sites that you have gathered your information from and base your hole conspiracy theory on, in order for everyone to be as informed as you are.
There are so many people who are involved with this Superfund site and have been apart of it for years, and there are those who have researched endless hours, yet you are the only one with "information as to what is really going on in our town?" I say, enlighten us with your intellect and knowledge. Make available all the information you have, including all the toxins you state we are at risk for. For I alone am not the only one who is curious.
When you inform the masses Ms. Preston, you gather more voices. And many voices cannot be silenced as easy as one.

Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Article comment by: to Ashley Preston

Are you kidding me? Ashley, you have filed a 370 million dollar lawsuit. I can't imagine your attorney not telling you to talk to no one about the case. So, do you really think you ought to continue going on and on about it, and sharing information with who knows who? I think maybe you should be tested as well.

Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Article comment by: Ashley Preston

Why would you just assume that my information wasn't coming from reputable scientific sources? I didn't say that I had "other" information then what the EPA, EIAC, or the ADEQ has. All I was saying is they don't like to give out their scientific information unless you dig for it. I never knew that sharing information with others could "be construed as something else". I have never kept any information to myself, everything I know I have shared with every person that I come across, who has an interest in what is happening in our community. And why would my attorney not want me speaking out against lies? I don't oppose any ones position- I only seek the truth. EPA has made it very clear that they are here for the Enviornment-not public health. Hence, ENVIORNMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. It is very hard to trust someone when they tell you a different story every time they come to town. It's funny how much certain people don't want the truth coming out. The only reason I offered my email address, was because there is no way you can explain years of information on a 300 word or less forum. And believe me, I am not the only one speaking out, others just choose to stay behind the scene. You are right about one thing-I am in it to help the community! To help them protect our children, and find the truth!

Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Article comment by: @Ms Preston

Just a thought - make sure that any information that you pass on to others is coming from reputable scientific sources, are factual and are related to this issue. Otherwise, It could be construed as something else!

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