EPA to clean up abandoned Montrose business

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began the emergency cleanup Tuesday of Elizabeth Mining and Development Inc., a company that long resisted efforts by regulators to comply with environmental laws.

Owner Steve Casebolt abandoned the business that has been on 35 acres at 11948 Road 6300, four miles northwest of Montrose, an EPA official said Tuesday.

The lack of an owner who could control the property was part of the reason the EPA moved in this week to begin controlling and removing hazardous materials from the property, said Christopher Wardell, community involvement coordinator with the EPA office in Denver.

The Elizabeth Mining and Development site was used since 1998 to reclaim rare metals from used catalytic converters. That process required large equipment to shred converters and an acid-bath process to recover metals.

Waste stored on the site includes lead, chromium and caustic and corrosive substances such as sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, ethyl acetate,  sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, the EPA said.

The EPA determined that conditions at the site “represent a substantial threat to public health and the environment,”  the agency said in a statement, noting the proximity of the property to the Uncompahgre River and a housing development less than a quarter-mile away.

There were fears that trespassers might damage or release some of the hazardous materials on the site, prompting the EPA to begin the emergency cleanup, Wardell said.

Five employees of a company known as Environmental Response were dealing directly with substances suspected of being hazardous, and to do that they donned respirators and suits designed to protect them from direct contact with the materials, Wardell said.

Runoff from rain and snow might carry away hazardous materials that leak from unsecure containers, drums and vats, the agency said, noting also the “significant fire risk associated with large volumes of flammable liquids and oxidizers on the site.”

Officials are expected to remain at the site for at least a week, evaluating the content of containers, placing material in safe containers and eventually transporting it elsewhere for disposal.

Elizabeth Mining and Development Inc. is owned by Joe and Steven Casebolt, the EPA said. The company has been the subject of several federal, state and local actions, including a 1998 removal action by the EPA at the nearby Hi-Tech Metals site, also in Montrose County, the agency said.


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