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Health Investigators Descend On Illegal Dump Site, County Promises Action

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Written by Brian Maass
BENNETT, Colo. (CBS4) – The day after a CBS4 Investigation exposed videotape of Arapahoe County employees illegally dumping gallon after gallon of paint, investigators for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Tri-County Health Department sought out and found the site where it appears hundreds of gallons of road striping paint was dumped by a county public works crew.

“It was a mess,” said Tom Butts of the Tri-County Health Department, who told CBS4 one of his investigators, along with an investigator from the state health department and personnel from Arapahoe County scoured the site on Tuesday. Butts said they were able to find remnants of the dumped paint.

Monday night at 10 p.m., CBS4 revealed videotape from January that showed county workers draining a truck filled with paint used for road striping and painting and dumping the paint on the ground. There are strict local, state and federal laws governing the disposal of paint.

“The disposing of the paint in the manner shown on the video obtained by CBS4 on Monday evening is inappropriate and does not follow county procedures for disposing of water- based paint,” said Andrea Rasizer, the communications director for Arapahoe County. “We will take all proper steps necessary to mitigate any damage our employees may have caused, including conducting independent soil and water testing, and cleaning up the area.”

The paint dumping exposed by CBS4 occurred only about 100 yards from homes where residents rely on ground water for drinking. The dumping 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. 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.

Becky Long of the Colorado Environmental Coalition said Tuesday, “So for this to be happening so overtly is disturbing. I do hope a fine or penalty is put in place to make sure lessons are learned.”

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.”

“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,” Miller said.

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. 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, it’s contaminating everything we worked for.”

He 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,” wrote Smith, “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.”

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