EPA listens to resident’s concerns about possible soil contamination
RIFLE – After nearly two weeks of contacting different agencies with concerns of a potential health hazard near the recreation path that runs behind the Wal-Mart in Rifle, Darla Dean finally got some action Wednesday.Two weeks earlier, Dean claims, she and her three dogs fell ill after a walk along the recreation path where her dogs walked and played in “sludge” in areas of standing water.”I walk my dogs there all the time,” Dean said. “I want someone to look at this and see if there’s something wrong here. What does it take?”Dean claims to have checked into Grand River Medical Center emergency care in Rifle on Sept. 5, presenting “elevated blood pressure” and “respiratory issues,” but said that doctors were unable to pinpoint the problem without knowing what she had been in contact with.Dean witnessed the same problem involving her three dogs because, according to Dean, veterinarians told her that they couldn’t treat the condition appropriately without knowing what had caused the dogs’ conditions.So Dean’s focus turned to finding out what had caused the illness and what could be done. She called the EPA in Denver, then Washington, and they told her to contact the local agencies like the health department.”I didn’t know what to do,” Dean said. “It seemed that no one wanted to take responsibility for the problem.”On-scene coordinator Shun-Ping Chau, of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) region 8 from Denver, arrived in Rifle Wednesday morning to interview Dean about the situation and collect soil samples to be tested for any contaminants that could pose a potential public risk.”Darla was persistent,” Chau said. “She kept calling, and we felt that it was necessary to come out and take some samples to see if there is anything here.”The samples are to be tested by URS Operating Services Inc. in Denver, but Chau indicated that she didn’t know how long it would be before the results came back and that this is “typical” of what the EPA would do in this situation.Dean said she first contacted the EPA – two weeks prior – on Sept. 5, but that the EPA told her that she should contact the local health department first.”That is the way it works,” Chau said. “It’s really a local health issue. We look to them and use local resources who can make assessments right away if there is an issue.”Chau conducted interviews with Jim Rada, environmental health manager for Garfield County Public Health, and Bill Sappington, public works director for the city of Rifle, at the site in question. Both men spoke with Dean around Sept. 6 or 7, when she first voiced concerns regarding the issue. At that time Sappington concluded the problem to be nothing more than “overwatering” by the irrigation system that waters the easement owned by Wal-Mart or could be due to recent heavy rainstorms.Sappington voided another of Dean’s concerns that the saturated ground could be caused by a leak in the city’s sanitary sewer system, because the sanitary sewer pipes are located along Airport Road at the front side of the Wal-Mart parking lot.Rada agreed that it seemed to be nothing more than overwatering by the landscaping company contracted by Wal-Mart.”It appears to be stagnant irrigation water, and there is no indication that there was anything out of the ordinary going on out there,” Rada said last week.According to Rada, the health department looks into every case of possible health risks, and in this case no other concerns have been presented to the department regarding individuals presenting illness that have been in the same area.”We don’t discount individual illness,” Rada said. “But there was no linkage in this case. Our first concern was for her to see a doctor to try and diagnose the illness.”Rada said the health department followed up on her calls. Sappington and Rada made site visits and contacted Wal-Mart managers to get them involved and help try to eliminate any future standing water problems that could host mosquito breeding that could carry West Nile virus.”Unfortunately there is storm drain retention out there,” Rada said. “So there is going to be some water in the area.”Rada was surprised to see the EPA involved but said that it’s good to see them interested.”It’s great that they are willing to expend the resources to figure out if something is going on out here,” Rada said.Contact John Gardner: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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