Several Denver Water workers are now saying that they were ordered to illegally dump asbestos and other hazardous substances on a lot at 12th Avenue and Sheridan Street more than two decades ago.
This location, three blocks south of the city's east-west divider, Colfax Avenue, lies on the western edge of Lakewood Gulch Park, and south of Sloan's Lake Park, the city's largest water feature. A former dump site, the area includes the Dry Gulch Stream.
Denver Water, founded in 1918, is a public utility that gets its funding from new tap fees and water service charges. As Colorado's oldest water utility, it serves 1.3 million people in the metro area, and also delivers water to areas like Lakewood, Littleton, and the Valley Water District.
Providing one-third of the state's treated water supply, or about 234,000 acre-feet per year, it gets water from the South Platte River, the Blue River, the Williams Fork River, and the Fraser River, as well as South Boulder Creek, Ralston Creek and Bear Creek.
Under a conservation message designed to conserve Eastern Slope Colorado Water, Denver Water's slogan, "Use Only What You Need", suggests an environmentally friendly profile. If what Pacheco says is true, the environmental profile has suffered a serious blow.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral widely used in construction and some automotive products during most of the last century. The fibers, too small to be seen except with an electron microscope, can be inhaled or ingested from broken material and lodge in the mesothelial tissues of the body (that is, the linings of the lungs, or pleura, the heart, or pericardium, and the abdomen, or peritoneum). Once there, they can lie dormant for decades, causing irritation and, eventually, cancer.
Because of its long dormancy and extensive invasion of vital tissues, pleural mesothelioma is largely viewed as an incurable cancer, and most doctors providing a diagnosis also give patients about a year to live. In cases where the disease is caught early, about 10 percent of victims can survive up to five years if treated aggressively with surgical interventions and dual chemotherapies.
Former Denver Water worker testimony was apparently prompted by the fact that digging for the western corridor of the city's light rail service, RTD Fast Tracks, and erecting a proposed new light rail station, will expose this buried asbestos. The question is whether the dumping was illegal, or part of a larger program to dispose of hazardous waste at a time when regulations were not so stringent.
Adrienne Anderson, an environmental investigator for Denver Direct, the city's small but totally independent electronic environmental publication, calls the news "outrageous", and says, if true, Denver Water should be responsible for cleaning up the site. The cost will actually fall to RTD Fast Tracks, which is funded by taxpayers.
Denver Water has neither confirmed nor denied the report, but did issue a statement saying that it had disposed of hazardous waste in the past "in accordance with regulations current at the time". The agency has also denied any affiliation or connection with the former landfill at 12th and Sheridan, and noted that asbestos disposal regulations, managed through the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, or CDPHE, have changed over time.
Whistleblowers attended the Denver Water board meeting on Oct. 28 (Tuesday), ostensibly held to announce a rate increase as a result of water availability issues in the increasingly dry state. CO WATCH, a project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, was at the meeting to hear the testimony (later reported by Denver Fox News affiliate KDVR). Anderson writes for CO WATCH.