Meeting Thursday In Espanola On EPA, NMED Handling Of Local Superfund Site

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The Rio Arriba Community Health Council has jumped into action after hearing a presentation by a local student attending University of New Mexico Law School. Mara Yarbrough had decided to research the Española Superfund Site for a class in environmental law.

The site was designated after a local dry-cleaner leaked carcinogenic chemicals called chlorinated solvents into the groundwater, creating three toxic plumes: a shallow plume, an intermediate plume and a deep plume.

Yarbrough spent a year researching, and then reported to the council that while the EPA had used “pump and treat” technology to successfully remediate a similar plume in Albuquerque, they opted for a much less expensive and less effective remediation in Española which involved injecting vegetable oil into the groundwater to encourage bacteria to break down the chemicals.

While chlorinated solvents reached safe levels in much of the shallow plume, carcinogens have become more concentrated in parts of the shallow and intermediate plumes, and the remedy did not function as designed in the deep plume, limiting Española’s options for new wells for drinking water.

Yarbrough’s class project raised enough local concern that the County of Rio Arriba engaged the UNM Law Clinic and her professor, Professor Clifford Villa, to assist them to engage NMED and the EPA to more aggressively address the toxic plume.

“Our community needs to be heard,” stated Rio Arriba Health and Human Services Director, Lauren Reichelt, who also owns a private well that has been contaminated by the plume. “In addition to creating problems for residents in developing sources for clean drinking water, the ongoing pollution has made it impossible to eliminate blight on our Mainstreet. A pre-school, a grocery store, a fitness center, the school administration building and many residences are located near or above the plumes. It seems to me that these agencies feel less urgency addressing our impoverished rural community than they might if we were located in Albuquerque. That’s not acceptable.”

The EPA is planning a meeting with the community to discuss their progress and their cessation of funding for the project at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11 at the Beatrice Martinez Senior Center, 735 Vietnam Veterans Road in Espanola. A large crowd is expected and it is hoped that the community will be afforded an opportunity to speak.