PUEBLO, Colo. - Neighborhoods contaminated with toxic metals from an old smelter will be cleaned up.
City council members have reservations but after considering the issue for several years, they agreed Tuesday they would draft a letter with Pueblo county commissioners to send to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"I do believe it needs to be done, but I want it to be done where everybody has the right to be protected and not just the kids in this neighborhood but the kids in the surrounding neighborhoods have the same rights," city council president Steve Nawrocki said.
More than 100 people crowded the hall at St Mary Help of Christian Church for a community meeting with local and state health officials, including the Environmental Protection Agency.
Julianne Williamson said her four-year-old daughter has blood lead levels that are slightly below reportable federal standards. She said if the city hadn't proceeded to move forward with the listing, council members would have failed the city's children.
"I can't imagine picking up and leaving, but I can imagine fearing for the rest of my life if we're gonna have a safe, healthy long life," Williamson said.
Victor Ketellapper, an engineer with the EPA, reminded neighbors the agency will only clean a home if the homeowner has given approval. "Not every property in the neighborhood needs to be cleaned up," Ketellapper said.
Joe Kocman, a longtime Eilers resident, asked if there were other ways to clean up the slag pile aside from Superfund designation.
Ketellapper estimated the cost of the cleanup would be between $7 million to $10 million, plus the cost of removing the slag pile. It's a cost the city and county cannot afford on their own.
Kiera Hatton, a member of the Sierra Club, urged elected officials to support the cleanup. "Pueblo is seen as the dumping grounds for the rest of the state," Hatton added.
Over the years, homeowners have expressed concern that listing the neighborhood would diminish property values. Others argued the stigma surrounding the area has already depreciated the value.
"We need to put more value in our kids than we do in our property value," Williamson said.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry tested adults and children in September. Several neighbors asked city council to postpone making its decision until those results were available.
"We all want to take care of the children. My concern is that we'd still like to get the finalized data from the study that's been done," said Eilers resident Judy Kochevar.
City council and county commissioners plan to draft a letter to Hickenlooper with stipulations, including a time frame for the cleanup.