Power plants linked with cancer

Elevated risk of cancer is the latest by-product of coal-fired power generation, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to coal ash, the waste from power plants, causes cancer risks up to 10,000 times greater than EPA regulatory goals. Groups from throughout the Four Corners, which is already dotted with three power plants, are crying foul.

While EPA has not yet formally released the revised assessment, environmental groups have received a summary of the draft. The draft indicates that the cancer risk for adults and children drinking groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal combustion waste dumps can be as high as 1 in 100. To make matters worse, the country’s largest coal ash dump in the nation is located in northwestern New Mexico.

More than 100 million tons of coal ash and sludge have been dumped at the BHP Billiton Navajo and San Juan mines located southwest of Farmington, and toxic levels of sulfates, boron, selenium and heavy metals have been found in washes and water in the vicinity.

The two mines provide the coal for the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station, a relationship that ends with the dumping of ashes and sludge. The Desert Rock coal-fired power plant proposed for northwest New Mexico would generate more than 1 million tons of fly ash and scrubber sludge each year. That waste is also slated to be dumped without controls into the Navajo Mine, adding to the toxic legacy of coal mining in the Four Corners.  

“The EPA and the Navajo Nation have neglected the public health problems to Navajo citizens caused by years of dumping coal combustion wastes at Navajo and San Juan mines with inadequate monitoring and toxic drainage reaching the Chaco and San Juan rivers,” said Lori Goodman of Diné CARE. “The contamination of our water sources from coal combustion wastes on the Navajo Nation is simply unacceptable.”

A broad coalition of 27 environmental and public health groups recently submitted a proposal to EPA detailing ways to protect against pollution from coal ash. The groups also requested that EPA take immediate action to investigate and abate pollution at coal ash dump sites.

“The disclosure of the risk of cancer from coal combustion wastes is a wake up call to the very real public health threats created by continued reliance on burning coal to create energy and the toxic legacy that results,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Given that the EPA has failed to protect the public from the toxicity of coal combustion waste in Navajo and San Juan mines, it is clear that dumping additional fly ash and sludge from the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired power plant would be a huge problem.”    

In 2000, EPA committed to establishing regulations for coal ash disposal. The agency is expected to defer federal waste regulation in favor of a voluntary industry agreement, which promises no controls on the hundreds of existing waste dumps and gives industry three years to place monitoring wells around dumps within a mile of drinking water sources.


Animas Mountain plan fleshed out

Plans to reduce fire danger by logging and thinning Animas Mountain gained clarity this week. The Bureau of Land Management plans to thin gambel oak, piñon, juniper and small diameter ponderosa pine on 800 acres of the popular recreational area. The work would be accomplished by hand-thinning and hydromowing, and the agency is currently seeking public input on the proposal.

Following the catastrophic wildfire season of 2002 – which included Durango’s Missionary Ridge Fire – the Bush Administration created the National Fire Plan. Among the plan’s mandates is that the Forest Service thin trees in the Wildland Urban Interface, the edge of the forest in proximity to communities and homes. Animas Mountain is among Durango’s most popular recreation areas for hiking, biking and climbing. However, the resource, which is part city park and predominantly BLM land, is also surrounded on three sides by homes and was identified in the La Plata County Community Fire Plan as an area of high concern and risk.

There is a potential conflict, however. The old road accessing Animas Mountain would require reconstruction to create access for forestry equipment. That old road is now a trail, making up approximately half of the larger loop. The BLM counters that impacts to the trail system would be minimized as much as possible. The agency added that following the project, the road would be rehabilitated or decommissioned and replaced with a reroute.

Because Animas Mountain is such a recreational resource, the BLM said it is going out of its ways to gather public input before any work begins this summer. “It’s a balancing act, and I know it takes a little getting used to for people, but we’re trying very hard to keep everyone happy,” Pam Wilson, fire information officer, said in a Telegraph story last week.

Comments can be submitted to maryjones@fs.fed.us until March 30 and to cgoodell@fs.fed.us up until May 1.

Durango T receive top honors

Local public transportation received high honors recently. The Durango Transit System has been awarded the prestigious 2007 Federal Transit Administration Ridership Award. Durango Transit is one of the first transportation systems to earn the inaugural FTA Award for Success in Enhancing Riderhip Award. The honor, according to the FTA, “aims to shine a spotlight on the nation’s top transit providers who truly make a difference in their communities.”

Durango was chosen based on its ridership gains and the broad transferability of recent initiatives that have been employed in the system’s development since 2004. The award will be presented to the City’s Transit Manager Hope Bleecker at the American Public Transportation Association Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 12.

Numerous changes have gone into the system in recent years. The city designed a new logo reminiscent of round railroad emblems and painted its buses red in an effort to make its standard small bus service more visible. The effort was coupled with a new service routing plan, new bus stop signs, new printed schedule information, a free promotion on its trolley system, and an interlined bus schedule for its city-wide buses.

Aimed at reducing traffic congestion and increasing convenience, the new Durango “T” began experiencing significant ridership gains with modifications to existing route plans.  The improvements resulted in a 20.5 percent ridership gain in a two-year period.

“We are thrilled to be recognized at the federal level for a system that has become so successful on the local level,” said Bleecker.

Brown’s Shoe hit and run solved

A Durango resident may be in need of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Robert D. McCann, 22, was arrested Tuesday in connection with the early morning crash at Brown’s Shoe Fit on March 8. An out-of-control blue Volkswagen Jetta reportedly sideswiped the Gardenswartz Building at 9th Street and Main Avenue and left the scene of the accident.

On March 9, the Durango Police Department received an anonymous tip that the vehicle responsible for the crash was parked in a garage on Glenisle Avenue. After obtaining a warrant, authorities found McCann’s blue Volkswagen Jetta, complete with severe front-end damage, at that location.

McCann was apprehended on Tuesday and charged with: Financial Responsibility Act (FRA) Suspension; Operating an Uninsured Motor Vehicle; Reckless Driving; Hit & Run; Failure to Notify Police of Accident; and Displaying Expired Numbered Plates.

– compiled by Will Sands

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows