Asbestos in Colorado
While Colorado’s naturally rocky, mountainous landscape hosts many deposits of naturally occurring asbestos, most of the state’s asbestos threats stem from industrial job sites. Work settings such as factories, power plants, refineries and mines were among the state’s major asbestos exposure threats.
Industrial sites such as Conoco Oil Refinery, Oxnard Construction Company and Hudson Energy Company relied heavily on asbestos products until the 1980s. Asbestos insulation was a common component of these plants, which utilized the fibers to protect against fires caused by overheated machinery. Although asbestos helped reduce the risk of fire, it posed its own set of health risks to employees who handled the fibers.
If disturbed, the naturally occurring asbestos in Colorado also can cause illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. The Calumet Mine, Hecla No. 2 Mine and the CF&I Company Mine were all located on amphibole deposits, while mines such as the Dolores Co. Falcon Mine and the Iron King Mine in the Tomichi District were home to naturally occurring tremolite asbestos. None of these mines produced asbestos, but the mineral may have been disturbed during mining of the primary mineral.
In March 2021, the Denver Parks & Recreation department responded to damage caused by sledders that exposed asbestos in Ruby Hill Park. The park sits on top of an old landfill containing asbestos waste. Rather than walking to the top of the park, an estimated 200 cars drove to the top, which damaged sod covering the asbestos waste. The department said the sledders were likely exposed to asbestos, and that it will cost around $100,000 to mitigate the damage.
Colorado’s Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk
Factory and plant workers in Colorado faced numerous occupational asbestos hazards. Some workers directly handled asbestos while manufacturing products such as roofing compounds. Other employees may have been exposed to asbestos while repairing high-heat machinery that relied on asbestos as insulation.
Colorado’s mining industry also placed workers at risk for inhaling asbestos. Miners may have inhaled asbestos while extracting iron, limestone, gold, coal or other natural resources from the ground. Asbestiform minerals such as ferrian winchite or asbestiform tremolite from Colorado’s Salt Creek vermiculite deposits posed additional health risk to miners.
Jobsites and Environmental Areas at Risk
Workers at Colorado-based companies such as the Centel Corporation, Schmidt Incinerators and Utilicorp may now face elevated risks of developing mesothelioma.
Other Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure:
- Colorado Springs Public Utilities
- Drive Train Industries
- Hensel Phelps Construction Company
- Poole Construction Company
- Nixon Power Plant
Several types of asbestos and asbestiform minerals have been found in Colorado soil, including the Caribou Mine and the Monarch Occurrence in Boulder.
Additional areas where asbestos was present include:
- Cree Camp
- Milliken Occurrence, La Plata District
- Sedalia Copper Mine
- Sloan Diatremes
- Snowy Range Mine
06. WESTERN MINERALS COMPANY
Western Minerals Company Plant
Between 1867 and 1990, Western Minerals Company Plant in Denver, Colorado, processed vermiculite ore for use in industrial applications. Some of the vermiculite received at the Western Minerals Plant was shipped by W.R. Grace’s Libby, Montana, vermiculite mine, where the ore was heavily contaminated with asbestos fibers. The Denver site processed up to 81,797 tons of this vermiculite, while three other unnamed processing plants in Florence, Lamar and Greeley processed up to 3,900 tons of Libby vermiculite.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took soil samples that revealed asbestos still remains in some of the Denver site’s soil, although the current owners have covered much of the soil with buildings and asphalt parking areas. The EPA determined that the site, which is now home to the Minnesota Corn Processors facility, is free from air contamination, yet employees during the vermiculite processing years may have been exposed to airborne asbestos.
Estes Power Plant
Estes Power Plant in Larimer County turned reclaimed river water into usable water as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Reclamation Project. When the plant was constructed in 1950, asbestos was considered to be a prime insulator for the plant’s high-heat operations. As a result, many construction materials and equipment on site contained the fibers, potentially exposing workers whenever walls, tiles or machinery were roughly handled or repaired. The plant’s three generators may also have been insulated with asbestos.
In January 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior requested bids from abatement companies to remove over 1,800 square feet of asbestos-contaminated plaster and 250 linear feet of chrysotile asbestos-laced HVAC duct wrap. Asbestos spray was also used on stabilizers and sheeting in the plant. The state estimated renovations to cost as much as $500,000.
Asbestos Lawsuits in Colorado
Colorado courts have presided over a number of asbestos lawsuits, including several filed against Colorado-based corporations. One such case was filed in 1986 against several corporations, including Harbison-Walker Refractory, one of the state’s leading fireproof ceramic and metal product manufacturers, and John Crane, Co., a prominent mechanical company. The former employees who had developed asbestos-related diseases after asbestos exposure at these work sites were awarded injury compensation.
The potential hazards of asbestos in schools also have led to lawsuits in Colorado. In 1984, the Adams-Arapahoe School district filed a claim against more than a dozen companies that designed, manufactured or sold asbestos materials used to build Aurora, Colorado, schools. Defendants named in the case include GAF Corp., W.R. Grace and Co. and Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp. The district filed suit to recover the cost of removing damaged asbestos products that posed exposure risks to students and teachers.
Although jurors initially awarded compensation to the school district for the abatement costs, several defendants appealed the verdict. The decision was overturned when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concluded the school district failed to provide sufficient evidence that asbestos in its schools caused anyone to develop an asbestos-related injury. Despite the court’s previous decision that the defendants acted negligently, Colorado law requires claimants to prove physical damage to persons or property before filing a product liability case.