Trapper Mine in Craig rated second on a toxic release inventory for Colorado put out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But both representatives at Trapper Mine and a study coordinator with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the results are misleading.
Although the report says that in the year 2000, Trapper Mine released 2.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals, the chemicals do not pose a health risk to local residents, said Kirk Mills, the toxic release inventory coordinator for the Colorado Pollution Prevention Program.
The program is based at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"The results at Trapper Mine do not pose that much concern," Mills said. "In essence these are not what we would normally consider to be toxic releases. I certainly don't think the numbers at Trapper Mine pose a risk."
Mills said most of the reported releases from the mining industry come from metals that exist in rock and are left in the rock after mineral processing.
These leftover metals, which are treated as toxic releases in the study, are managed in a variety of ways, Mills said.
The materials are placed in tailings ponds, used for road surfacing or placed back in mined areas for reclamation.
The high number reported by the EPA at Trapper Mine is due to ash returned to Trapper Mine from Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
The ash is a by-product of coal combustion from Tri-State, which is used as structural backfill at Trapper Mine.
"What it boils down to is it's being put back in nature and we must report on it," said Gordon Peters, the general manager of Trapper Mine. "We're putting the ash back in the ground and covering it up."
Mines and electric utility companies were required to report their toxic release numbers to the
EPA after a 1997 amendment to the Emergency Planning
and Community Right to Know Act.
Prior to the 1997 amendment only chemical manufacturers were required to report their annual chemical release to the EPA.
"There are very minute amounts of metals in the ash that they consider toxic," Peters said. "But because we are putting thousands of pounds of ash back in the ground, it's misleading."
Peters said the ash is not a health risk to residents.
"I think it's important people know that," Peters said.
By including coal industries in this study, the EPA is defeating the purpose of conducting a study, said Forrest Luke, the environmental manager at Trapper Mine.
"The purpose of these studies is to try and get industries to change their behavior," he said.
"The problem is in our case there's nothing we can do. The only thing that could be done to reduce it would be if the power plant quits producing electricity."