The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has been awarded $200,000 grant to clean up an abandoned landfill on the outskirts of Towaoc.
The grant is part of a brownfields program that targets communities in need of environmental cleanup projects.
The old Towaoc landfill has been closed since 1997, said Quinton Jacket, brownfields coordinator for the tribe.
The cap used for closing the 35-acre landfill is eroding, he said, exposing landfill materials, trash and contamination. During rainstorms, some of the debris flows into nearby Navajo Wash and Cottonwood Wash, tributaries of the Mancos River.
“A lot of work went into our proposal, and there is a real need for solving the problem,” jacket said.
Improving the cap and drainage will control contaminates at the site, which include heavy metals, and organic and inorganic compounds.
The regular deposits of biohazards in the washes are picked up during windstorms or evaporate into the atmosphere, said Mike King, air-quality specialist for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
“These particulates are breathed in and cause cardiovascular diseases and sickness,” King said.
Initial work is expected to begin this summer. Funding will allow for extensive soil sampling, a protective soil cap, and electronic resistivity surveys to find out the make up of the landfill wastes.
Once environmentally and structurally stable, the tribe plans to install solar panels at the site, which could provide electricity needs for the nearby farm and ranch operation.
“It is good to get it cleaned up and managed better because of the toxins,” said Priscilla Bancroft, superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Towaoc. “A permanent solution there is good for our future.”
The tribe has also embarked on a education campaign to dissuade trash-burning at an ad-hoc dump site near the old landfill. Burning is part of cultural traditions, but it has gone beyond the rite of burning belongings of those passed or for other personal reasons, Jacket said.
Scott Clow, director of the tribe’s environmental department, stated at a recent public meeting in Towaoc that household trash, including appliances, are burned at the site.
“The hazard is that the incomplete combustion leaves chemicals in the ground that over time migrate to the nearby washes,” he said.
The partially burned electronics are not degraded enough to be safe.
“We grew up with burning our trash,” said tribal member Bonita Denetsosie. “But it is not the safest way to deal with it.”
The tribe is among 171 communities receiving 264 grants totaling $67 million in brownfields funding. They are seen as way to return economic stability to underserved neighborhoods in need of environmental cleanup.