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 Tuesday, June 22, 2004 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


CU-Boulder Professor Assists in Remediation of Abandoned Mines
By Vanessa Lozano, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Mining is a large part of Colorado's heritage. Since the 1860s, mining activity has taken place near Boulder, leaving behind about 3,600 abandoned mines in the county. Most of the mines are safety hazards due to old and unsafe shafts. Additionally, a small fraction are discharging acidic and metal-laden water into nearby streams.

Joe Ryan, professor of environmental engineering, and a team of CU-Boulder students are contributing research to support the cleanup of several mines that may pose a threat to public health and aquatic life. With funding from the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee, they have been conducting metal loading tracer tests, which creates a map of metal concentrations in the streams near the mines and helps set cleanup priorities.

photo of abandoned colorado mine"Fortunately, most of the mines are deep in the mountains and by the time the water travels to where somebody might want to drink it, it's been diluted by uncontaminated water and is not a serious hazard," said Ryan. "Aquatic life faces most of the dangers from contaminated water. You won't find any fish in most of the streams around the mines."

In September 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency added the Captain Jack Mill in Boulder County to the National Priorities List of superfund sites, which makes the site eligible to receive federal funds for cleanup. Additionally, the Burlington Mine near Jamestown is being cleaned up under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Voluntary Cleanup program.

The data from Ryan's research is assisting the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group, a community task force, in plans and proposals they have written for funds to clean up additional sites.

"Right now we're characterizing what's happening near the mines," said Ryan. "In the future we'll shift over to creating a plan to clean up a certain abandoned mine and help to execute that plan."

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