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Vasquez Boulevard & I-70
Updated December 2014
Operable Unit 1 (OU1) Residential Soils: Residential soil sampling and cleanup is complete at the Vasquez Boulevard & Interstate 70 (VB/I-70) Superfund site. EPA has sampled more than 4,500 properties—99 percent of the total. At the approximately 800 properties with levels of lead and/or arsenic above our cleanup levels, EPA has completed removing and replacing those yards with new soils. Residents at the vast majority of properties within the VB/I-70 boundaries can work, play, garden or just spend time in their yards without concern for lead and or arsenic contamination.
For the few remaining properties where EPA was not able to gain access from the owners, there are now informational measures, called institutional controls, in place to protect people living there both today and in the future. EPA recently recorded Notices of Environmental Conditions for those properties at the City and County of Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office. There will also be an annual mailing to residents living at those properties so they are fully informed of the possible or known lead and arsenic contamination in their soil. In September 2014, EPA issued an Explanation of Significant Differences to the Record of Decision that documents the addition of these informational notices and annual mailings to the original soil sampling and cleanup remedy.
Also in September 2014, EPA issued the second five-year review report for VB/I-70. The report details the most recent EPA review of the VB/I-70 remedy and concludes that the remedy for the residential portion of VB/I-70 is protective for human health and the environment. This moves EPA closer to completing its work at the residential portion of the VB/I-70 Superfund site and deleting these neighborhoods from the Superfund National Priorities List.
Operable Unit 2 (OU2) Omaha and Grant Smelter: EPA is working with the City and County of Denver (CCOD) on CCOD’s plans to upgrade the storm water management infrastructure in the vicinity of the Denver Coliseum to meet a 50-year flood capacity. EPA is involved with the portion of the storm water management infrastructure that traverses OU2, and this upgrade will likely require the excavation of substantial volumes of potentially contaminated materials in OU2. Following EPA protocol, CCOD will conduct the work while ensuring that protective measures are taken to address any potential releases of, or worker exposure to, hazardous substances.
Operable Unit 3 Argo Smelter: EPA is continuing investigations to evaluate if smelter-generated wastes were buried on the site and whether they pose a health risk to future workers or groundwater.
The Vasquez Boulevard & I-70 (VB/I-70) Superfund site is located in north-central Denver. The site boundaries are roughly the South Platte River to the west, Colorado Boulevard to the east, 52nd Ave. to the north, and 32nd Ave. to the south. The site includes all or part of the following neighborhoods: Cole, Clayton, Swansea/Elyria, southwest Globeville, and northern Curtis Park. Historically, this area was a major smelting center for the Rocky Mountain West. Three smelting plants—Omaha & Grant, Argo, and Globe—operated in the area for varying lengths of time, beginning as early as 1870, refining gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc.
On January 19, 1999, the VB/I-70 site was listed on the EPA Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). Including the site on the NPL assures EPA access to cleanup funding through the Superfund program if responsible parties fail to clean up the site adequately. Listing also guarantees the public an opportunity to participate in cleanup decisions.
The site risks for OU1 are summarized in the following table. Site risks for OU2 and OU3 are currently being studied.
|Media Affected||Contaminants||Source of Contamination|
|soils||lead and arsenic||smelting operations and/or other sources|
EPA is the lead agency for Superfund activities at the site and works cooperatively with the support agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). VB/I-70 was divided into three Operable Units (OUs) for the purposes of better managing the project. The OUs are:
- OU1 Residential Soils
- OU2 Omaha and Grant Smelter
- OU3 Argo Smelter
OU1 focuses on residential soils and includes more than 4,500 residential properties across four square miles in all or part of the following north Denver neighborhoods: Cole, Clayton, Swansea/Elyria, southwest Globeville, and a small section of northern Curtis Park. EPA and CDPHE began investigating these residential yards in 1998 to determine if arsenic, lead, cadmium or zinc residues from past smelting operations posed a potential threat to the health of residents. The investigation showed that lead and arsenic were the heavy metals of concern and sampling results showed elevated lead and arsenic concentrations in some yards. A large-scale residential soils investigation ensued.
In May 2002, EPA released a proposed plan outlining its preferred cleanup option. Due to extensive public comments requesting EPA to lower the soil concentration cleanup levels, EPA developed a new cleanup alternative. This alternative proposed to clean up soils that exceeded lead concentrations of 400 ppm (parts per million) or arsenic concentrations of 70 ppm. A revised proposed plan, which included this alternative, was issued for public review in May 2003. A Record of Decision (ROD) detailing this alternative as EPA's final cleanup decision was issued on September 25, 2003. The ROD included a Responsiveness Summary of the public comments received.
From 2003 through 2006, EPA carried out a vast residential soils sampling and cleanup project. The majority of yards sampled had levels of lead and arsenic below EPA’s levels of concern and did not require any further action. However, about 1 in 5 yards sampled did require further action due to elevated levels of lead and/or arsenic. At these properties, EPA removed the contaminated soil and replaced the yard with clean soil, and re-landscaped in coordination with the property owner. In all, EPA sampled about 4,500 properties, and removed and replaced soil at the 800 or so that needed it. During the process, EPA removed more than 91,000 cubic yards of soil, planted more than 1.5 million square feet of sod and frequently utilized other, less water-intensive landscaping materials such as rock and mulch.
EPA also included other features as part of the VB/I-70 residential cleanup, such as a lead paint abatement program and a community-based Community Health Program. The Community Health Program was intended to raise awareness in the community about lead and arsenic hazards and was designed to complement the soil cleanups. The Community Health Program was a unique program designed by local, federal and state government representatives and committed community leaders. The City of Denver administered the program, which included door-to-door visits from community members trained to become Community Health Workers and provided education to area residents on the hazards of lead, arsenic and a range of other environmentally-related topics. The program provided opportunities for parents to have their children tested for lead or arsenic exposure. The Community Health Program concluded in 2008.
In 2009, EPA conducted a standard five-year review of the remedy at VB/I-70. The review determined that the remedy at OU1 was not protective of human health because there were still approximately 180 properties where EPA was never able to gain access from the property owner to either sample or clean up. The five-year review report recommended implementing institutional controls to protect current and future residents from the possible or known soil contamination at those properties. Property records revealed that as many as 50 percent of the properties had changed owners since the previous sampling and cleanup effort had ended in 2006. EPA therefore recognized that it would be unjust to place institutional controls on properties at which the owners were new and would not have had the opportunity during the earlier remedial action to give EPA access to sample or clean up their property. As a result, in 2012 -2014, EPA embarked on a renewed outreach effort to all of the approximately 180 remaining properties, whether they had new owners or not, giving those property owners another chance to have their property either sampled or cleaned up. EPA’s outreach efforts resulted in about 100 new access agreements received. Of those, EPA identified approximately 25 properties that required cleanup. These additional properties were cleaned up in 2013 and 2014.
In June 2014, EPA placed Notices of Environmental Conditions in the property files of approximately 65 properties where, despite all efforts, EPA was not able to gain access from the property owners. The notices are filed at the City and County of Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Residents and owners of these properties will also receive annual mailings alerting them to the contamination issue and providing them with simple steps to avoid exposure.
Reviewing these properties will be part of the State of Colorado’s operation and maintenance responsibilities and these properties will be reviewed as part of future VB/I-70 five-year reviews.
OU2 is the area where the former Omaha & Grant Smelter was located. The facility operated from 1882 until 1903, smelting ore mined from the Rocky Mountains to produce gold, silver, copper, and lead. The Omaha & Grant Smelter facility was demolished sometime in the early 20th century, though the furnace stack was used to incinerate municipal waste from 1933-1945.
OU2 encompasses approximately 50 acres that today includes primarily the southern portion of the Denver Coliseum, and nearby commercial properties along Brighton Boulevard including the Pepsi Bottling Company. The OU2 site also includes the Globeville Landing Park. The South Platte River flows along its western edge.
EPA, CDPHE and the City and County of Denver (CCOD) continue to work together to investigate potential heavy metal contamination in the soils, groundwater, surface water and sediments at the site. CCOD performed a remedial investigation to evaluate the nature and extent of environmental contamination at OU2 in 2009. In 2010 CCOD conducted a feasibility study to evaluate alternatives available to address the contamination. A proposed cleanup plan, based on information from the feasibility study has been postponed until EPA completes an additional investigation of groundwater at OU2.
EPA is working with CCOD on its plans to upgrade the High Street storm water management infrastructure to meet a 50-year flood capacity. EPA’s involvement in this action is necessary because the storm water water management infrastructure traverses OU2, and this upgrade will likely require the excavation of substantial volumes of potentially lead and arsenic-impacted soils in OU2. Following EPA protocol, CCOD will conduct the work while ensuring that protective measures are taken to address any potential releases of, or worker exposure to, hazardous substances.
OU3 is the area where the Argo Smelter operated. The former smelter buildings have been demolished and the area has been redeveloped. EPA is investigating whether smelter-generated wastes were buried on the site and whether they pose a health risk to future workers or groundwater. EPA and CDPHE completed a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS). In November 2007, EPA released a proposed plan outlining its preferred cleanup option. In December 2007, EPA held a public meeting to discuss the proposed cleanup option and other alternatives. Based on comments received, EPA and CDPHE determined that further investigation was warranted. Therefore, investigations are continuing. EPA and CDPHE will release a proposed plan and provide an opportunity for further public review and comment in the future.
Community involvement plays an important role in the Superfund process. EPA uses a number of different tools and resources to promote effective, on-going, meaningful community involvement. The goals of the Superfund community involvement program are to:
- Keep communities affected by sites informed throughout the cleanup process.
- Provide opportunities for communities to comment and offer their input about site cleanup plans.
- Facilitate the resolution of community issues tied to a site.
EPA recognizes that community involvement at the VB/I-70 site is important for achieving a successful environmental cleanup. The final cleanup plan at VB/I-70's OU1 was developed with extensive community and agency involvement. From 1999 to 2006, a group of committed community and agency stakeholders met together in a working group to gain information and provide input on the residential soils cleanup plan. EPA twice awarded a technical assistance grant to a local community group, CEASE, whose members came together specifically to participate in the cleanup process for VB/I-70. EPA produced and distributed numerous fact sheets, fliers and postcards to advertise meetings and to update the community on the VB/I-70 residential yards cleanup. In addition, EPA participated in and presented at a number of neighborhood organization meetings, neighborhood fairs and picnics, and other community gatherings. EPA also hosted a number of public meetings, availability sessions and open houses.
More recently, during the 2012/2013 renewed outreach effort, EPA focused less on widespread community involvement and targeted its efforts toward those owners of properties that had never provided access to EPA before. In attempting to gain access to these properties, EPA was greatly assisted by local elected officials and residents. EPA mailed letters to the property owners and conducted door-to-door efforts in order to contact them about access to their property. Those who assisted EPA in door-to-door efforts included local residents, former local residents, and EPA staffers, some of whom were local residents. In addition, the local non-profit group Groundwork Denver assisted EPA in its outreach efforts by sharing helpful knowledge and insight about the local communities. EPA is very appreciative of Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks’ office and his staff’s assistance with the door-to-door effort. Further, both Denver City Councilors Albus Brooks and Judy Montero were generous with their advice and assistance in the effort to connect EPA and property owners.
EPA places a high priority on land reuse as part of its Superfund response program mission. The agency tries to select cleanup options that encourage and support future use of a site. EPA uses two fundamental methods to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites:
- Exploring future uses before the cleanup remedy is implemented, an approach that gives the Agency the best chance of designing cleanup remedies to support the likely future use of a site.
- Working with landowners and communities to remove barriers not considered necessary for the protection of human health or the environment at those sites where remedies are already in place.
One option for reuse is the siting of clean and renewable energy projects on contaminated (or formerly contaminated) lands. As part of this effort, EPA is evaluating the potential for energy projects on these properties and working with landowners and communities to identify ways to remove barriers to such projects.
OU1 is in continued use as residential neighborhoods.
OU2 is currently primarily commercial/industrial with recreational on a small portion near the South Platte River at the Globeville Landing Park. There are many potential redevelopment scenarios for the site and its surroundings. One potential future land use may be multi-family residential.
OU3 is in continued use as commercial properties.
Land use controls are the most common type of institutional control (IC). ICs are administrative or legal controls that help reduce the likelihood for human exposure to contamination. ICs can also help protect the integrity of the remedy. Examples of ICs are:
- Zoning ordinances.
- Environmental covenants.
- Deed notices.
- Well-drilling restrictions.
- Building permits.
- Informational advisories.
ICs are typically developed during the RI/FS process, as needed, as a part of the proposed alternatives. At VB/I-70 OU1, the Record of Decision did not discuss institutional controls, and none were implemented after the 2003-2006 remedial action. A 2009 EPA five-year review of the VB/I-70 remedy concluded that the remedy was not protective for all properties at VB/I-70 because institutional controls were not implemented where EPA could not gain access from property owners to sample or clean up their property. The five-year review report recommended implementing informational measures (institutional controls) to alert current and future residents to the possible or known soil contamination at those properties. Property records revealed that as many as 50 percent of the properties had changed owners since the previous sampling and cleanup effort had ended in 2006. EPA therefore recognized that it would be unjust to place institutional controls on properties at which the owners were new and would not have had the opportunity during the earlier remedial action to give EPA access to sample or clean up their property. As a result, in 2012 -2014, EPA embarked on a renewed outreach effort to all of the approximately 180 remaining properties, whether they had new owners or not, giving those property owners another chance to have their property either sampled or cleaned up. Despite all efforts, a small number of property owners continued to ignore or deny EPA requests for access. Therefore, EPA is implementing the following informational measures (institutional controls) at approximately 65 properties to protect current and future residents.
The institutional controls include:
- An annual mailing to owners and residents of the property informing them of the potential or known contamination.
- Recording a notice of environmental conditions in the property file at the Clerk and Recorder’s office of the City and County of Denver to alert future potential buyers of the known or potential contamination before they purchase a property.
EPA or the lead agency conducts five-year reviews following the start of a Superfund cleanup when contamination is left on the site. These reviews are repeated every five years. We use these reviews to determine:
- How the remedy is working.
- If the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment.
The first five-year review of the VB/I-70 remedy was conducted in 2009 with a status update in 2010. The focus of the review was the residential portion OU1 of the site. Environmental investigations at OU2 and OU3 were ongoing at the time; a remedy for OU2 or OU3 had not yet been selected. The 2009 Five-Year Review Report of VB/I-70 OU1 stated that the remedy was not protective of human health and the environment because there remained properties in the site with potential or known contamination. The 2009 Five-Year Review Report is available in the Site Documents Section.
EPA issued the second five-year review report for VB/I-70 in September 2014. The focus of the review was OU1. OU2 and OU3 continue to be investigated; a remedy for OU2 and OU3 has not yet been selected. The 2014 five-year review report states:
The remedy at OU1 is protective of human health and the environment. Contaminated soils in residential yards have been excavated and disposed off-site and institutional controls have been implemented for the small number of residential properties where access to sample and/or cleanup was not granted.
The 2014 five-year review report is available in Site Documents. The third five-year review will be conducted in 2019.
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Map of the site boundaries and operable units, January 2011
Explanation of Significant Differences, September 30, 2014
Second Five-Year Review Report, September 30, 2014
Site Update Fact Sheet, June 2012
Post Construction Fact Sheet, Fall 2006
External Lead-Based Paint Fact Sheet, Fall 2006
Site Update Fact Sheet/Hoja de Hechos, April 2006
Record of Decision (PDF), September 25, 2003(73 pp, 896 K)
OU2 Fact Sheet, February 2010
OU2 Community Involvement Plan, January 2010
Remedial Investigation Report – Operable Unit 2, December 2009
Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (EPR-SR)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
800-227-8917 ext. 312-7122 (toll free Region 8 only)
Community Involvement Coordinator & Public Affairs Specialist
1595 Wynkoop Street (OC)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
800-227-8917, ext. 312-6601 (toll free Region 8 only)
State Project Manager
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver CO 80246-1530
Community Relations Manager
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
888-569-1831 ext. 3373 (toll free)
Site Information Repositories:
EPA Superfund Records Center
1595 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80202-1129
To request copies of administrative record documents call:
800-227-8917 ext. 312-7273 (toll free Region 8 only)