September 30 - October 6, 2004
Questa Mayor to Feds: Knock on every door
By Bobby Magill
The Taos News
QUESTA — Not an unusual sight at public meetings concerning Molycorp, a shouting match erupted during what had been an orderly meeting Sept. 22 about a federal report on contaminants from the nearby molybdenum mine.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, held the meeting to allow the public to get immediate answers about an agency report that says contaminants released from the molybdenum mine could still be hazardous to public health.
The report said the mine does not presently pose a threat, but it has in the past and could again if the Unocal-owned Molycorp doesn't keep its contaminants in check.
The crowd at the meeting at St. Anthony's Parish in Questa said the report doesn't go far enough.
Amigos Bravos' Rachel Conn said she appreciates that the agency acknowledges the contaminants are a health risk, but she said the finding that contaminated wells pose no present health risk is only true if people aren't drinking from the contaminated wells.
"There is a health hazard in that there are contaminated drinking wells in town," Conn said.
But Jill Dyken, an ATSDR health assessor, said the agency recommends people not drink the water, thereby mitigating any health risk.
She said that the information the agency used to determine the area's health risk came voluntarily from some residents. The agency, she said, couldn't conduct door-to-door interviews with Questeños to discover the condition of all the town's wells and who was drinking from them.
Some residents at the meeting said they know for sure people are drinking from contaminated wells. The Environmental Protection Agency's Mark Purcell, who is in charge of that agency's remedial investigation of the mine, said he'd be glad to take samples from private wells.
"We're still interested," he said of the testing.
Village Attorney Marcus Rael of Albuquerque said he has received calls from residents demanding the village sample private wells for contamination.
"We don't have the authority to test private wells," he said, adding that the water in those wells is unrelated to the municipal water supply.
The discussion and the ATSDR's report frustrated Questa Mayor Charlie Gonzales.
"You people are continually putting stress on the community," he said to the ATSDR officials. "We've been through these meetings, and you people have still not gone out and investigated each well in this community. You need to go and knock on every citizen's door."
He complained that working with the federal agencies is like going around in circles and, he said, "I'm getting frustrated."
But Lisa Hayes, ATSDR senior environmental scientist, said, though it's not the agency's intention to stress the community, "you have limited resources; we have limited resources."
She said the agency can't talk to everyone, preventing the agency from conducting a complete investigation of the area's contamination and making the public meetings that are frustrating Gonzales necessary.
José Cisneros, a Questa School Board member and outspoken opponent of Molycorp, echoed Gonzales.
"It's the same sad story," he said. "I've heard this for the last 35 years."
But David Douglas, namesake of the contaminated Douglas Well, said Questeños should place the blame on Molycorp, not just the ATSDR and EPA.
If Molycorp had not contaminated the area in the first place, there would be no need for the federal agencies to be here trying to clean up their mess, he said.
"Let's talk about the stress Molycorp brought to the community," he said.
© 2004, The Taos News. Reprinted