CAMP HALE, Colorado - The U.S. Forest Service has closed portions of Camp Hale after learning that asbestos likely left behind 50 years ago has been found in areas of the former military training camp.
Eagle/Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neely said Friday the Forest Service first learned about the asbestos, which he refers to as "isolated surface deposits," from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sept. 25. The corps had contractors working in Camp Hale to remove other so-called asbestos-containing material when those contractors located the asbestos on the ground.
The material is located in the northern portion of the encampment area. Camp Hale, located between Red Cliff and Leadville off Highway 24, was once home to about 17,000 soldiers training for World War II known as the 10th Mountain Division. Neely said the site was deactivated as a military training area in 1965 and the federal government transferred it back to the U.S. Forest Service in 1966. The camp was broken down around that time and Neely said "it's likely the material is associated with that, but we can't state that for sure."
The areas where asbestos has been found are areas where warehouse facilities and other camp-related facilities were located, Neely said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working at Camp Hale as part of the U.S. Army Environmental Command's Military Munitions Response Program, said Adam Little, the Camp Hale project's manager. The work done under that program tries to address potential explosives safety, health and environmental issues caused by munitions-related activities at formerly used defense sites.
Little said the asbestos was actually discovered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last year shortly before winter, but the Army Corps of Engineers couldn't investigate until after the snow melted. He added that workers did air monitoring this summer and tests came back negative, meaning the asbestos is not likely breathed in through the air as it currently sits, although that possibility hasn't been ruled out.
"Next week we're looking to get a crew out there to some areas to spray an agent on there to reduce the potential for airborne fibers," Little said.
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Kevin Quinn added that there's "good evidence" from the work that has been going on at the site that the air is safe.
The Forest Service enacted the closure in the northern portion of the encampment area, as well as a closure for areas in the southern part of Camp Hale, because "protection of public safety is our highest priority while we develop a long-term strategy for mitigation of the resource with our partners," Neely said.
Neely said the public safety risk is still being evaluated, but the Forest Service doesn't want to take any unnecessary chances.
The closure that restricts all entry to the northern encampment areas is year-round, while the second order limiting travel in the southern part of the valley to roads and trails is lifted once there is at least 1 foot of snow on the ground, Neely said.
Neely said the Forest Service closed the area to campers a couple of years ago to preserve the historical significance of the site, and earlier this summer the Forest Service implemented its new travel management plan which restricted motorized uses on several roads in and around Camp Hale.
With the first rifle season for hunters beginning today, Neely wants the public to know that travel is allowed through the main entrance of Camp Hale and on to other roads, but travel through the Camp Hale valley floor is restricted to specific trails. The Forest Service has also posted maps and closure information at the site.
As for any potential risk to local drinking water, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said that asbestos is a particulate, meaning the Water District already has a system in place for treating it.
"Just like any other types of particulates that would be in the river, the treatment process that we have at our water plants is actually the best treatment available to remove particulates, so we would continue doing the same type of treatment," Johnson said.
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