MONTROSE – The land around the closed up Elizabeth Mining and Development Inc. office is a sorry sight. Weeds are waist high, and the 30-plus acres at 11948 6300 Road are littered with junk, including various types of containers, many filled with toxic waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency began cleanup of the site last week, which includes 6,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid, said EPA spokesman Chris Wardell.
The “emergency removal” will take about a week, he said, and will also include “explosive material and other liquids that pose a risk to nearby waters and residents.”
Elizabeth Mining, also known as Precious Metal Recovery, was owned by the late Joseph Casebolt and his son Steven. According to the EPA, the company reclaimed rare metals from catalytic converters using large equipment to shred converters and an acid bath process to recover metals. Waste by-products stored on site include lead, chromium, corrosives (sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide), caustics, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and ethyl acetate.
These substances “represent a substantial threat to public health and the environment,” said the EPA. The plant sits on the flood plain of the Uncompahgre River and is within a quarter mile of a housing development.
“Contaminants present at the site may impact nearby drainages and surface waters,” states an EPA news release. “During runoff from rain and snow melt, hazardous substances stored in unsecured containers, drums and vats may lead into the environment. There is also significant fire risk associated with large volumes of flammable liquids and oxidizers on the site.”
The cleanup comes under the purview of the Superfund Act (technically the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) established in 1980 to clean up hazardous substances that threaten public health or the environment, authorizing the EPA to clean up such sites and seek reimbursement from those who caused them.
This isn’t the first Superfund cleanup operation the Casebolts have created. The Casebolts previously owned Hi-Tech Metal Refiners on Bill Road in Montrose, which was cited by the EPA in 1998 for illegally handling 82 tons of toxic waste. The EPA says the site was cleaned up “for $279,000 of taxpayer money” but that the U.S. Department of Justice “determined that the Casebolts could not be held liable.”
But they were held liable in the Elizabeth Mining case. Both Joseph and Steven Casebolt were arrested in Montrose in April of 2007 and charged with a 44-count indictment that included charges of racketeering, securities fraud, attempting to influence a public servant, forgery and 28 violations of the Hazardous Waste Act.
Joseph Casebolt died in 2008 and, subsequently, Steven Casebolt’s charges were drastically reduced. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of illegally storing hazardous materials and one felony count of illegal treatment of hazardous waste and was sentenced in September of 2009 to 135 days in jail, five years probation and 200 hours of community service to be performed in Florida, where he now lives. Also facing the same initial charges as the Casebolts was their business associate, Wayne Ratner of Maury County, Tenn., who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of selling unregistered securities. Ratner received three years probation.
In 2008, the state health department fined Steven Casebolt $420,000 for violations and told him to cease operations and all treatment of hazardous waste at the plant.
Whether Casebolt will be held responsible for this cleanup remains to be seen. Al Lange, who is heading up the Elizabeth cleanup for the EPA, said he also worked on the Bill Road cleanup. He said the agency usually goes after polluters to pay the cost of cleanup and he was unhappy that Casebolt didn’t receive a stiffer sentence and wasn’t held financially responsible for the previous cleanup.
“I don’t like it,” he said.
Lange said it’s too early to tell just how much this cleanup operation will cost, but it will be complete within a week. Only hazardous materials will be removed, not the old cars and other debris that dot the Elizabeth Mining site.
“There’s still lots of junk out there, but the hazardous stuff will be gone,” Lange said.