The federal Environmental Protection Agency gave Españolans a new definition of, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” We also have to question the “protection” part of the agency’s title.

    We refer of course to the Agency pulling out of the Superfund cleanup site in the historic district. In an Aug. 27 letter to the New Mexico Environment Department, the Agency states it will no longer fund the cleanup and the state now must take the lead.

    After three decades of drilling, testing, pumping, injecting and constructing, the Agency is stopping operations because it finally decided the current process to clean the Trichloroethene, Dichloroethene, Vinyl Chloride and Perchloroethene is not working.

    Those four chemicals with fancy names are nasty carcinogens, or cancer-causing.

    The Superfund site’s origin is the old Norge Cleaners on Railroad Ave. Dry cleaning chemicals in the 1960s and ‘70s were dumped on the ground outside and percolated into three different water tables at different depths and now flow in slightly different directions. In the 1980s the Agency identified hundreds of pollution sites around the country, which were too big for municipalities to tackle and would be a threat to other nearby populations.

    Española’s site was perceived as a threat to the Rio Grande, since the contaminants are flowing toward the river and populations south. The site has been pocked with almost 100 wells. Some are for testing, others for pumping water out for decontamination and others for re-injecting clean water into the aquifer.

    Mara Yarbrough is a lawyer with University of New Mexico law school, president of the Association for Public Interest Law and environmental justice chair for the Environmental Law Society at UNM. She performed a year of research of what is called the North Railroad Avenue Plume, through document requests and interviews.

    According to documents requested and reviewed by Yarbrough, the Agency states in a July 2015 letter that efforts have been modestly successful at the shallow level, failed at the middle levels, with an increase in pollutants. At the deepest levels, 180 to 260 feet, the highest levels of contaminants sit beneath a residential area.

    The Agency states those pollutants at the middle level are coming from a different source. For that reason, the cleanup must be expanded.

    Inexplicably, the Agency is saying, “not it,” and passing the sputtering torch to the state. The Agency will no longer fund the cleanup.

    It’s shocking, but kind of to be expected, that a federal agency would stop work on a 30-year, multi-million dollar project with a letter to the state. Don’t expect a smooth hand-off to the state, which will immediately be in over its head.

    While New Mexico’s budget is currently in fine shape, a project of this magnitude requires expertise, monitoring and skill sets the state cannot provide. This cleanup had a price tag of $5.8 million. The Agency was using the Enhanced Bioremediation method, the least expensive. However, that method obviously failed.

    By contrast, at the Fruit Avenue Plume Superfund site in Albuquerque the Agency used the Pump and Treat (plus Bioremediation) at a cost of $11.4 million. The Agency expects to meet its 15 year cleanup goal, at all levels.

    An agency document states the latter method, “Offers the highest degree of protection of human health, in the shortest time frame.” That sounds like in Española the Agency was penny wise and pound foolish. There’s also a strong hint of a highly populated Albuquerque being treated differently than a small town in Northern New Mexico.

    They wasted a lot of money and we have a huge health hazard in the historic district.

    The Agency is now stating there are airborne and ground hazards, not just bad water.

    The state Environment Department may be able to tackle this job short term but this will take at least another 30 years, if the new wells at the site of the “other contamination” can be used to pump and treat and Bioremediation can be applied.

    The governor needs to get involved. This calls for federal leadership to make a visit to the Environmental Protection Agency. Our U.S. senators need to jump into action.

    Maybe our congressman can stop raising money for his uncontested senate race and finally do something for the people he’s supposed to represent.

    This is wrong on many levels. The federal government can’t just walk away from a 30-year project and say they’re done with it. It must take responsibility and double its efforts.

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