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"Time-critical removal" of acid, other wastes being performed at Colorado site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is removing thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals from now-defunct Elizabeth Mining and Development, Inc., located in the Colorado town of Montrose.

"The worst thing we have found is a little over 6,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid," Al Lange, on-scene coordinator for the EPA's Region VIII, said Tuesday as contract crews moved barrels of sodium nitrate to a staging area.

The EPA's Christopher Wardell said there is no immediate danger to the public, but teams are undertaking a "time-critical removal" lest acids stored at the EMDI facility on 63.00 Road leak into nearby drainages and waterways.

Highly flammable chemicals are also stored at the site, defunct since owners Joseph and Steven Casebolt were indicted in 2007 on state charges related to improper hazardous waste disposal and fraud.

The 35-acre site sits on the floodplain of the Uncompahgre River, just across the road from the Delta-Montrose Electrical Association. A housing development and dairy are close by.

"If [wastes] were left here, the potential is that they could be released into the environment and threaten nearby businesses and residences," said Wardell, the EPA's community involvement coordinator for Region VIII.

Anyone coming onto the site also could be exposed to hazardous chemicals, Lange said.

People already have entered the site without legitimate reason. In January, two men and a woman were caught allegedly trespassing at EMDI, and because they hid from responding deputies, those peace officers also had to go on the site.

"We've had some bad things here that we wouldn't want youngsters--or anyone--to run around in," Lange said.

Contractors found large vats of acid with "pretty insecure" storage, Wardell said.

"There were many vats, drums full of different materials used in the (metals) reclamation process," he said. "They found lead, chromium, sulphuric acids and hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, caustics, nitrates and ethyl acetate."

The EPA visited the site in June with supertechnical assistance response team contractors and classified the hazards there.

The EPA first investigated the facility four years ago, when Steven Casebolt and his father, Joseph, were stripping precious metals from catalytic converters. The pair was linked to a Superfund site on Bill Road in 1998 but not held liable for cleanup costs.

The 2006 investigation by federal, state and local officials led to the 2007 indictment of the Casebolts and their business partner, Wayne Ratner, on multiple felonies related to hazardous waste disposal, racketeering and securities fraud.

Joseph Casebolt's indictment was dropped when he died in 2008. Ratner pleaded to selling an unregistered security and was sentenced to probation. Steven Casebolt pleaded guilty in 2009 to illegally treating and storing waste at EMDI (also called Precious Metals Resources and since renamed Amazon Mining).

At Casebolt's sentencing last September, Colorado Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Melito called him "just another common bank robber" and had him jailed for 135 days, with work release granted. Casebolt was fined $75,000 and ordered to complete five years of supervised probation in his new home state of Florida.

Melito said the Casebolts had "ravaged the land" for decades, and equipment was missing from EMDI.

Casebolt is further on the hook for more than $400,000 in civil penalties imposed by the state's Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission.

The EMDI site went into foreclosure in 2009, but the lender withdrew it in January so it did not go to sale, said Montrose County Treasurer Rosemary Murphy.

"Everything has led up to this (removal)," Wardell said Tuesday.

The work is expected to continue this week and possibly into next.

Waste is being moved to a staging area, where two contract scientists take samples for testing. Barrels without hazardous waste are marked with a large green dot and will be left on site, along with all other non-toxic wastes, machinery and equipment.

Lange said teams found sludge at EMDI, but it is not hazardous.

Hazardous waste is being "overpacked" into larger drums that are sealed to prevent leaking. These drums are to be shipped to appropriate, permitted disposal sites.

Neither Lange nor Wardell had an estimate for how much the cleanup will cost. Taxpayers are footing the bill for now, though Wardell said the EPA will try to recoup cleanup expenses.
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Publication:Hazardous Waste Superfund Alert
Date:Aug 4, 2010
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