BENNETT, Colo. (CBS4) – A CBS4 investigation has uncovered Arapahoe County Public Works employees illegally pumping hundreds, maybe thousands of gallons of paint used for road striping onto the ground only about 100 yards from homes where residents rely on ground water for drinking.
The dumping, which apparently took place in January of this year, was at a yard leased by Arapahoe County at 4374 South County Road 137 in Bennett. It’s at the intersection of Kiowa-Bennett Road and East Quincy Avenue and was videotaped by workers with Arapahoe County’s Road and Bridge Department.
The property, known as the “Kiowa-Bennett” yard, is used for storing old pavement and other supplies. But on the videotape obtained by CBS4, Arapahoe County’s only truck used for striping roads and highways can be seen in the yard gushing gallon after gallon of yellow and white paint on to the dirt as workers stand nearby.
Workers who recorded the tape can be heard saying, “This is what was directed by our foreman and our supervisor. We all said we felt uncomfortable doing this.”
CBS4 spoke to two of three men involved in the paint dumping. They asked their names not be used. Both claimed they strongly objected to the dumping and repeatedly voiced those objections to their supervisors but administrators in the Road and Bridge department ordered them to do it.
“All of us were disgusted,” one of the workers told CBS4.
In April CBS4 showed the videotape to Arapahoe County Public Works Director David Schmit and Steve Miller, environmental manager in Arapahoe County’s Risk Management Division.
“We would never authorize any conduct like that,” said Schmit after viewing the tape. “To see something like that is very disappointing. We’ll certainly have to investigate and take corrective measures.”
Miller said, “It disappointed me as well to see it. We don’t condone it. It’s not part of our procedures and policies. We will do a full investigation to get to the root cause.”
As that investigation is under way others are reacting with shock that the county would illegally dump excess paint.
“It’s a horrible thing to do. Like I say, it’s obscene,” said John Harris, the owner of Belcaro Paint in Denver and a former paint chemist for Benjamin Moore paint. “It’s just blatant disregard for the earth, for the people in the community, for the laws. It’s terribly serious,” said Harris after watching the videotape. “I think some heads are going to roll over this. There’s no good excuse. You have to wonder with supervision like this, what else has been disposed of illegally or improperly.”
CBS4 tracked down where the paint was purchased and the material safety data sheet for the type of paint that was dumped on the ground. According to the warning label, the paints are categorized as non-carcinogenic, but the warning label also says, “This product contains trace amounts of a chemical(s) known to California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
That’s hardly comforting to Casey and Clint Decker, brothers who own a ranch about 100 yards away from where the paint dumping occurred. Like other residents in the area, their water supply comes from well water.
“I’m very surprised. I didn’t think government officials would ask for something like that to be done,” said Casey Decker. “I’m just concerned about it being in my water, my livestock drink it, our dogs drink it, if it’s contaminated, its contaminating everything we worked for.”
Decker said he planned to get his water tested to see if the dumped paint is having any impact.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Clint Decker after watching the CBS4 videotape. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It shocks me the county would endanger someone’s health to save a few dollars. They crack down on everybody about everything else. How come they can get away with something like that?”
Warren Smith with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the type of paint that was dumped is regulated as a solid waste.
“The Colorado Solid Waste Act prohibits illegal disposal of solid waste and allows for a range of enforcement actions including compliance orders and corrective actions with penalties up to $10,000 per day per violation, depending upon the specific circumstances. Other statutes may apply,” Smith wrote, “such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.”
Schmit said Arapahoe County has strict protocols for disposing of excess road paint. He said in this case, those rules and regulations were not followed. Schmit said what the CBS4 Investigation found is “unacceptable.”
Tom Butts, director of Environmental Health for the Tri- County Health Department, which oversees Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties, said his agency has begun a preliminary investigation into what CBS4 revealed.