Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler visited the Colorado Smelter Superfund site in Pueblo on Monday, July 27.
Some 1,900 south Pueblo properties were potentially affected by lead and arsenic left behind by a silver smelter that shut down in 1908. To get these toxins cleaned up the EPA placed the area on its National Priorities List in 2014.
Wheeler said it was the right decision to speed up the project a couple of years ago by more than doubling its annual budget.
"When a site is added to the priorities list like this one has, it should be just that, a priority," Wheeler said, "There are too many examples of sites around the country that have been stuck and lingered on the list for years, well beyond when they should have been cleaned up and delisted."
Wheeler said they temporarily redirected funds from more remote Superfund sites.
"Instead of spending a lot of money to get one site cleaned up that has no public health impact and doesn't have an immediate danger to the environment, as far as danger to underground water. Then we can afford to maybe take an extra year to get that site cleaned up in order to focus the clean up on the sites where people are," Wheeler said.
He praised the collaborative efforts of his team and local governments at the Colorado Smelter Superfund site.
Contaminated soil has been removed from around nearly 400 homes in the Eilers, Grove and Bessemer neighborhoods. About the same number of homes still need clean ups. Some public parks and commercial properties have also had soil clean ups.
Indoor dust clean ups have been done at almost 200 homes in the area That's about 30 percent of homes expected to need it.
The EPA anticipates winding down the $75 million project by 2023.