Durango Telegraph - Smelter site has yet to make the grade
Smelter site has yet to make the grade

Durango has an intimate relationship with uranium. For 21 years beginning in 1942, Durango’s smelter, located on the banks of the Animas River and just southwest of downtown, produced uranium oxide. The by-product was more than 1.2 million cubic yards of sandy tailings containing radioactive materials and other hazardous heavy metals.

The U.S. Department of Energy eventually recognized the waste’s health hazards and in 1986 undertook a major clean-up of the former mill site, the current Durango Dog Park.

Five years later, the site met Environmental Protection Agency standards, and the effort was hailed as a success. However, the DOE and

the San Juan Basin Health Department have both acknowledged that the clean-up was not perfect. In its 2003 “Verification Monitoring Report for Durango, Colorado,” the Department of

Energy revealed that several serious pollutants are still not within “regulatory levels” for the old Smelter and current dog park.

According to modeling:

• Uranium concentrations are expected to decrease to regulatory standards in 80 years.

• Manganese and sulfate levels should decrease to project standards in 70 to 100 years

• Selenium levels should be acceptable within 100 years.

• Cadmium concentrations are not expected to be acceptable within 100 years. Contingency remedies may be needed.

• Molybdenum concentrations should decrease to regulatory standards in five years.

– Will Sands