I'm waking up to ash and dust,
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust,
I'm breathing in the chemicals
Imagine Dragons – Radioactive.
Many homeowners in the Grand Valley are familiar with the mill tailing cleanup project from the 1970s and 1980s. Five hundred and ninety-four (594) structures in Mesa County underwent remedial actions to remove radioactive mill tailings from their property; more structures were inspected and provided with information that their property was not contaminated.
Homes built in the 50s, 60s and 70s could have contamination caused by use of mill tailings in construction of the residence. The assumption that the remedial action undertaken, or an inspection showing no contamination, meant the home is free from radiation could be a serious mistake.
One of the primary concerns of the initial program was to remediate radon gas exposure. However, gamma radiation exposure is also a significant health threat that may not have been addressed as part of a remediation project or inspection in the 70s or 80s. It is possible that contaminated materials that were not subject to removal based on the standards during that program could now impact the owner’s ability to obtain a building permit for improvements to the property today.
This possible contamination creates issues for sellers and buyers of residential property in Mesa County that are generally overlooked. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will provide information about a property in connection with a building permit application or a proposed property transaction to the property owner, their representative, or a realtor, and may provide a gamma radiation survey if it appears likely that mill tailings may still be present.
Anyone planning a real estate transaction, or concerned about their own health situation, should consider taking advantage of the information available from the CDPHE. Although a property owner may have to bear the costs of dealing with unremediated contamination, dealing with the issue proactively will be cheaper than having to address a lawsuit based on non-disclosure.
For sellers, the standard contract to buy and sell may need a modification to assure the risk of inspection for contamination is delineated and the seller does not have continuing responsibility if contamination is later discovered. For a broker or attorney, advising clients to take advantage of the information available from the CDPHE is a way to provide information to your client.
For a buyer, reliance upon representations of a seller or a letter showing no contamination that was issued decades ago is not prudent.