NMED Releases Record of Decision for Hurley Soils Clean-up
A draft Record of Decision (ROD) has been written by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) regarding remediation completed this summer in the town of Hurley. Out of 670 Hurley properties sampled, 523 were found to be contaminated with copper in excess of 5,000 parts per million, and in some cases with other metals. It has been almost 14 years since an agreement between the state and Chino Mines was signed to investigate and to clean up potentially dangerous “historic contamination” which occurred prior to 1970 in Hurley as well as an estimated 50 square miles in and around the Chino Mine.
GRIP has been involved from the beginning of this process attending monthly citizen meetings of a mandated advisory Community Work Group that has endeavored to stay abreast of the many technical documents generated.
In 2005 GRIP and concerned individuals protested a NMED policy decision to raise its own recommended Remedial Action Criteria (RAC) of 2,000 ppm for the level of copper which if exceeded would require removal from soils. The RAC, through negotiation with Chino Mines, was raised to 3,100 ppm later in the same year, and after a dispute resolution process, to the final and less protective 5,000 ppm.
Since the early 1900s dumping, crushing, milling, and smelting of raw ores occurred in the town of Hurley, with nearby tailings piles and smelter emissions adding to the deposition of copper and other metals in Hurley and surrounding soils.
Incidental ingestion of copper was determined to be the major source of contamination in a Human Health Risk Assessment which found children to be most at risk due to direct contact while playing and hand-to-mouth contact with metals in soils.
The cleanup was voluntary and there were nine owners of properties who either did not permit the NMED to test or to remediate their yards. This leaves the cleanup technically incomplete and triggers a mandatory five-year review to be completed indefinitely or until all yards are sampled and those with soils exceeding 5,000 ppm remediated.
Contaminated soils were removed and replaced with clean dirt and a choice of sod or gravel. Several owners allowed only partial cleanup. In general most homeowners seem to be pleased with the work.
The expedited Interim Remedial Action (IRA) took 16 months and an estimated $12 million dollars. The draft ROD for the Hurley Soils Investigation Unit may be read at the Bayard Public Library, Silver City Public Library, Western New Mexico University’s Miller Library or at the New Mexico Environment Department Silver City office at 3082 32nd St. Bypass, Suite D.
This interim action is a bit unusual as far as Superfund projects are concerned, but was approved by the NMED to avoid the potential months or years of exposure time it might have taken to review and revise and approve a Feasibility Study and ROD before beginning a cleanup. NMED is confident the interim cleanup is protective and would have been the selected remedy if done in the usual order. A final ROD will be issued after consideration of public and agency comments.
While GRIP was disappointed with the state’s final RAC, the state assures that Chino Mine owners are responsible for addressing the level of health risk should concerns arise due to new science indicating additional risk from targeted metals.
The Hurley ROD is the first of several to be issued. Other Investigation Units (IUs) in various stages of Superfund-style Ecological and Human Health Risk Assessment are: Hanover/Whitewater Creek from Highway 152 to the confluence of San Vicente Creek, the Smelter/Tailings Soils IU, Lampbright IU, and an overall Ecological IU. The CWG has been meeting for over ten years and GRIP continues its commitment to follow this long process to insure that remedies selected are comprehensive and protective of human and ecological health.
GRIP was chosen by the New Mexico Department of Health/Office of Border Health to compile and publish an Environmental Health Resource Guide, aimed at helping citizens address environmental health issues in their communities.
The Environmental Health Resource Guide for Southwestern New Mexico – offered in both English and Spanish – was prepared by Marya Gendron, Allyson Siwik, Donna Stevens, and Harry Browne of the Gila Resources Information Project.