Pacific Southwest, Region 9: Superfund
Serving Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and Tribal Nations
Iron King Mine And Humboldt Smelter
EPA #: AZ0000309013
Congressional District: 01
On 10/13/17, this website will no longer be updated. Site information will be migrated to the new web page at: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/ironkingmine .
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Download the Remedial Investigation Report
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Description and History
NPL Listing History
NPL Status: Final
Proposed Date: 03/19/08
Final Date: 08/03/08
The former Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter lie within the Town of Dewey-Humboldt. The town, which covers an area of about 19 square miles at an elevation of about 4,600 feet, is located in the high desert of central Arizona, about 85 miles north of Phoenix. The Agua Fria River flows south through portions of the eastern section of the former Humboldt Smelter property.
There are two major contributors to contamination at the Iron King Mine / Humboldt Smelter (IKHS) site. (See figure at the bottom of this section.) First, the former Iron King Mine, where mining operations began in the late 1890s, consists of about 150 acres and is located west of Highway 69. Operators of the Iron King Mine extracted, milled, and concentrated solid rock ores for lead, zinc, copper, gold, and silver between about 1934 and 1970. Smaller mining facilities operated between 1906 and 1934.
Second, the former Humboldt Smelter, where mining and smelting operations began in the late 1870s, consists of about 180 acres and is located about 0.5 miles east of Highway 69. After small-scale operations in the late 1800s, the Humboldt Smelter purified copper from mine ores between 1906 and about 1937. Most production took place during World War I. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, small processing operations attempted to recover metals from materials brought to the old smelter property.
The contamination that remains today at the Site is from these historical operations.
Where is the Waste Contamination On and Near the Mine and Smelter?
A 4-million cubic-yard tailings pile remains at the Iron King Mine property. Tailings are wastes left over after saleable metals are removed from mined ore during processing. The tailings at the IKHS Site contain high levels of arsenic and lead. These metals can be toxic to humans and wildlife and can be found in soils or sediments, or dissolved in water. The slopes of the tailings pile are too steep for long-term stability. In about 1964, part of the pile collapsed. Mine pile tailings flowed into the Chaparral Gulch, passed downstream, and mixed with tailings from the Humboldt Smelter. There are braids of mostly buried contaminated tailings in the Gulch downstream of 3rd Street. These contaminants move and mix with sediments from the mountains during heavy rains.
The Humboldt Smelter dumped tailings into a wide swale, or depression in the land, and into an expansive flood plain in the Lower Chaparral Gulch. Today, these tailings and tailings from the Iron King Mine have mixed in the flood plain. The tailings are held back by a 25-foot concrete dam downstream of the former smelter. The dam is wedged in a narrow canyon upstream of the Agua Fria River. The extensive tailings are contaminated with arsenic and lead.
The Chaparral Gulch is usually dry but can have very high water flow during peak rain events. Sediments are washed down from the mountains and into the canyon along with mine and smelter tailings. Cleanup of the tailings in the Gulch will present a significant engineering challenge because the entire Gulch continues to be subject to powerful erosion that cuts through and moves tailings, and carries in more sediment.
The former smelter operators also dumped slag, a molten waste material, over the side of a cliff on the smelter property overlying the Agua Fria River. The slag has solidified and has an appearance like hardened black lava. In addition, a fine, grayish material called aluminum dross was crushed above the Gulch on the former smelter property, most likely in the 1950s, with the intention of recovering saleable aluminum. The dross remains today and contains elevated levels of lead.
EPA Sampling in Residential Yards
Over decades, mine and smelter tailings and other forms of contamination also reached some residential yards. Tailings or particles may have blown in the wind, been used as fill material, or been left in areas that later became yards. If levels of arsenic and lead in residential soils are high enough, they can pose health risks to persons exposed to the soils. For this reason, EPA investigated where residential soils would potentially have higher levels of arsenic or lead because of the mine and smelter, and whether these elevated levels may pose a health risk to residents.
EPA has now sampled or screened 580 residential yards in Dewey-Humboldt. Sampling results show that the great majority of yards sampled do not have levels of arsenic or lead that would pose a health risk to residents. However, EPA found a small number of yards with soils containing elevated levels of lead or arsenic and is now planning and executing cleanup actions for these yards as a first priority.
Contaminants and Risks
- Surface Water
- Soil and Sludges
- Environmentally Sensitive Area
The contaminants of concern at this site are arsenic and lead. These are metals that can attach to soil, sediment, or mine waste particles and in certain conditions, dissolve into water.
The most prevalent contaminated arsenic and lead source at the site is mine tailings. The tailings are located at the former Mine Tailings Pile, in the Chaparral Gulch, in the former Smelter Tailings Swale, in the flood plain above the dam, and in a few scattered places in the Gulch below the dam. The tailings from the mine and some areas at the former smelter contain up to 350 times the background concentrations of lead and over fifty times the background concentrations of arsenic. Background concentrations are the levels of metals that are normally found in an environment and can be naturally occurring or can be caused by other contamination sources, such as lead paint or gasoline. Exposure to lead and arsenic at these concentrations in the tailings could present a health risk if a person is in contact with them over a long period of time.
Mine tailings can move in the environment in several ways. They can wash into storm drainages and be washed downstream, either alone or after mixing into sediments being carried along by stormwater. They can then result in toxicity to humans, plants, or wildlife at downstream locations where they are deposited. Tailings can also be blown by the wind from locations where there is no cover or crust over tailings piles and deposits. They can then mix into soils in locations downwind.
In addition, when the Humboldt Smelter was operating 80 to more than 100 years ago, it generated emissions of particles and vapors from its smoke stacks. This is called stack emissions. This occurred when the furnaces used to melt the ores were vented to the atmosphere. There were no regulatory air controls at the time when the smelter was in operation, and the stack emissions would have contained metals. Part of EPA’s investigation has focused on possible residual soil contamination related to smelter stack emissions.
The primary areas of contamination at this site are:
· The Main Tailings Pile at the Former Mine Site;
· Areas with contaminated soils immediately north, south, and west of the Iron King Mine Main Tailings Pile;
· Tailings deposited, or mixed into sediments and soils, in the Upper and Middle Chaparral Gulch east of Highway 69 and above and below the 3rd Street overcrossing;
· Tailings remaining in the Smelter Tailings Swale, a former tailings impoundment used by the Smelter, which lies above Chaparral Gulch but below the level of the rest of the smelter and town;
· Dry and wet tailings and contaminated sediments lying in the great tailings flood plain below the smelter; including water-deposited tailings and contaminated sediments from both the mine and the smelter, and held back by a 25-foot high dam;
· The original smelter property, which exhibits contaminated soils and piles of aluminum dross material imported to the property after the original smelter closed;
· Solidified slag material hanging over the Agua Fria River adjacent to the original smelter pyrometallurgical operations area.
The locations of these source areas are shown on the map found above on this webpage.
Human Health Risk Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment
EPA has now completed a comprehensive human health risk assessment to evaluate the potential harm to residents posed by site contaminants. EPA has fully sampled or screened 580 residential properties. Sampling results show that the great majority of yards sampled do not have levels of arsenic or lead that would pose a health risk to residents. However, EPA found a small number of yards with soils containing elevated levels of lead or arsenic. EPA is now planning cleanup actions for these yards as a matter of first priority.
When EPA does a human health risk assessment, very health-protective assumptions are made and all site-related contaminants are considered in terms of the toxicity of the contaminants, how much people could be exposed to and for how long, and how bioavailable the contaminants are for the most sensitive individuals. The results of the human health risk assessment are provided in Section 9 of the Remedial Investigation Report.
EPA conducted an ecological risk assessment to evaluate whether potential exposure to contaminants could harm plants or animals. The assessment found that contamination poses risks to many plant and animal groups (for example: mammals, birds, reptiles, and aquatic organisms). The results of the ecological risk assessment are provided in Section 10 of the Remedial Investigation Report.
Groundwater and Drinking Water
In the Dewey-Humboldt area, EPA has collected data from many monitoring wells, in addition to public and private water wells. EPA concluded that the Site is not causing arsenic or lead contamination in groundwater.
However, a residents’ private well water may have naturally high levels of arsenic. In some locations in the Dewey-Humboldt area, groundwater is naturally high for arsenic due to the local geology. Many private water wells have very low arsenic levels, while others have higher arsenic levels. Private water wells with arsenic levels above safe drinking water standards are more likely on the eastern side of the Agua Fria River.
Arsenic in drinking water increases the risk of many health effects. EPA strongly recommends that residents have their private well water tested. If the level of arsenic in the private well water exceeds the safe drinking water standards of 10 micrograms per liter, EPA strongly recommends the resident install in-home filtration systems to remove arsenic.
The public water supply in Dewey-Humboldt is provided by purveyor Humboldt Water and monitored by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). For several years, the purveyor was under an enforcement action by the ADEQ. This was due to violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act because of high arsenic levels. As of 2016, Humboldt Water has installed new equipment, and ADEQ has confirmed the public drinking water complies with drinking water standards.
Who is Involved
The Iron King Mine / Humboldt Smelter Site is a federal Superfund site and the U.S. EPA is the lead agency for investigation and cleanup activities related to the site.
Other independent agencies and entities with knowledge and/or involvement on the Superfund project for this site include:
· The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
· The Town of Dewey-Humboldt
· The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
· The Arizona Department of Health Services
· The University of Arizona Superfund Research Program
EPA has issued a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) to the Community Coalition of Dewey Humboldt, with Chief Officer Rose Eitemiller. The funds under this grant are used for a community group to hire a technical consultant to assist them in understanding information provided by EPA about the site in its presentations, investigations, assessments, and reports.
Investigation and Cleanup Activities
INVESTIGATION AND CLEANUP ACTIVITIES
Remedial Investigation and Risk Assessment
Under the Superfund process, a remedial investigation (RI) is performed to evaluate the nature and extent of the contamination at a site. The RI explores what, where, and how much contamination is present, how and where it may have moved or be moving, and what risks it poses. The RI defines the problem that subsequent phases of the process develop and select actions to address.
As of September 2016, EPA has issued the comprehensive Remedial Investigation for the IKHS Site. This 3-volume document includes the human health risk assessment and ecological risk assessment. A link to an electronic version of this document can be found at the top of this webpage. The document can be found in hard copy at the site’s information repository at the Dewey-Humboldt Town Library.
Cleanup in Residential Areas: Residential Soils Removal Action
While sampling during the investigation has shown that the great majority of residential yards do not pose a risk to residents, EPA is now planning to implement an expedited cleanup action to address risks posed by contaminated soils at about 15-30 residential yards with elevated levels of lead and/or arsenic.
Cleanup in Non-Residential Areas: Feasibility Study
Now that the investigation into contamination has been completed and is documented in the RI, EPA is starting the feasibility study (FS) in the non-residential areas of the site. This includes the Main Tailings Pile and properties surrounding it, all affected segments of the Chaparral Gulch, the Humboldt Smelter Property (including but not limited to the dross piles, operations areas, and slag), the Smelter Tailings Swale, the great tailings flood plain, the concrete dam, the confluence area of Chaparral Gulch and the Agua Fria River, and other contaminated areas.
The purpose of the FS is to develop, evaluate, and compare cleanup alternatives. The FS is the basis for public comment and input prior to EPA’s selection of a cleanup alternative.
Investigation History Leading Up To the Remedial Investigation
Formal concerns related to the accumulated contamination at the former Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter properties began as a result of EPA and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) involvement in the various air quality, stormwater, landfill operation, and wastewater treatment permits held by facility operators. Complaints were documented and permit compliance violations reported. EPA and/or ADEQ performed the first CERCLA investigations (preliminary assessment/site inspections) at the properties in 2002-2004. A removal assessment was completed by EPA in 2005, and an expanded site inspection was completed by EPA in 2006.
The principal findings of these investigations were that hazardous materials, primarily metals, had been released at the former Iron King Mine and former Humboldt Smelter properties (or adjacent properties), and the contaminant sources. The findings of the initial investigations formed the basis for listing of the combined Iron King Mine / Humboldt Smelter Superfund site on EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL) on September 3, 2008.
Following listing of the Site on the NPL in 2008, EPA performed the following four phases of investigations between 2008 and 2015:
|Phase 1||2008 to 2009 Initial RI||Performed by EPA’s contractor EA Engineering, Science, and Technology, Inc.|
|Phase 2||2010 and 2012 Supplemental RI||Performed by EPA’s contractor EA Engineering, Science, and Technology, Inc.|
|Phase 3||2012 to 2013 Background and Surface Soil Sampling||Performed by EPA Region 9|
|Phase 4||2013 to 2015 Data Gap RI||Performed by EPA’s Environmental Response Team and their contractor Lockheed Martin Scientific, Engineering, Response and Analytical Services|
Cleanup Results to Date
As discussed in the previous section, EPA is currently planning a removal (cleanup) action for residential soils.
In addition, two previous initial removal (cleanup) actions were performed at residential and municipal properties in response to elevated concentrations of arsenic and lead in surface soils. These actions were performed before the overall residential investigation was complete. The first removal action was performed in 2006-2007 by a property owner/operator, Ironite Products Company, and addressed about six residential parcels. Soils were removed and replaced with clean soil. The second removal action was performed by EPA in 2011-2012 and addressed about 13 parcels. Most of these parcels were located along Sweet Pea Lane near a former rail spur that led into the former Humboldt Smelter. Soils were removed and replaced with clean soil.
Also in the 2011 removal action, a small tailings pile just north of the Main Tailings Pile at the Iron King Mine Property was removed and safely stockpiled on the Main Tailings Pile. This small tailings pile lay within the Chapparal Gulch west of Highway 69, and contaminated tailings were washing into the Gulch from that location.
These removal actions are discussed in detail in Section 3 of the RI Report.
Potentially Responsible Parties
Potentially responsible parties (PRPs) refers to companies that are potentially responsible for generating, transporting, or disposing of the hazardous waste found at the site.
Potentially responsible parties (PRPs) refers to entities that are potentially liable under the Superfund law to pay for, and/or perform investigation and cleanup of, site contamination. PRPs may include current owners and operators at the site and parties who were owners or operators during a time of release of hazardous substances. Parties responsible for generating, transporting, or disposing of the hazardous substances may also be PRPs. As part of the Superfund process, EPA identifies those parties that are "potentially responsible parties" who fall into one or more of the above categories of PRPs, and then may negotiate with the PRPs to perform cleanup activities under EPA oversight and/or help pay EPA's response costs. EPA has conducted a search for parties associated with the IKHS site and on November 19, 2009 issued a General Notice Letter to 14 parties advising them of their status as PRPs under CERCLA.
Documents and Reports
Public Meetings: EPA recognizes that communities have the right to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. EPA’s experience has been that when the public is involved in EPA’s work, the cleanup process results in a better outcome and a more robust remedy.
At the IKHS site, EPA’s Community Involvement Program helps citizens participate throughout the cleanup process, including the investigation phase and the remedy selection phase. Among the goals of EPA’s Community Involvement Program are to:
- 1. Provide opportunities for the public to become actively involved;
2. Meet the community’s information needs;
3. Incorporate issues and concerns into cleanup decisions; and
4. Give feedback to the public on how their issues and concerns were addressed.
EPA and ADEQ have a number of ways for the community to become more knowledgeable about and involved with the IKHS site.
Community Involvement Plan
The Iron King Mine / Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site Community Involvement Plan provides a detailed explanation of how EPA and ADEQ will encourage public participation in the cleanup decision-making process. It is a flexible plan that organizes both EPA’s and ADEQ’s efforts but can change based on new community needs. A copy of the Community Involvement Plan is located at the Dewey-Humboldt Town Library and is also available in the documents section of this website.
EPA periodically issues fact sheets to all mailing addresses in proximity to the site. These fact sheets provide information on a wide variety of topics including updates on the latest data and findings, announcements of upcoming public meetings, issuance of key reports, attainment of project milestones, opportunities for public input, public advisories, and other Site information. Several fact sheets are available on this website and are linked below.
Since the Site investigation and listing on the National Priorities List, EPA has held numerous meetings for the public. These meetings may include a presentation followed by input and discussion from the community or may follow an “open house” format with exhibits and staff available to answer questions. EPA plans to continue to announce and hold public meetings at appropriate points in the Superfund process.
EPA has also given presentations at Town Council meetings. EPA plans to continue to provide such briefings to the Town Council, and to coordinate with and keep the Town Manager aware of developments regarding the project in the future.
EPA periodically provides brief site updates and announcements through the Dewey-Humboldt Town Newsletter, which is available to all residents.
Community Technical Assistance Grant
EPA awarded a Technical Assistance Grant to the Community Coalition of Dewey-Humboldt, a local non-profit group. The purpose of the Technical Assistance Grant is to promote public participation by providing financial assistance to a community group for independent technical assistance. After the independent technical advisor reviews Site-related documents, the advisor can help the community formulate its questions and concerns and communicate them effectively to EPA.
Public Information Repositories
The public information repositories for the site are at the following locations:
Dewey-Humboldt Town Library
2735 N. Corral Street
EPA Site Manager
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Community Involvement Coordinator
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Public Information Center
Phoenix, AZ 85007
After Hours (Emergency Response)