Denver Radium Case Study
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
Last Updated January 1999
Radioactive site from radium processing and other industrial activities
A Home Depot retail store
Local jobs and income, increased property values, increased public revenues
The mountains of Colorado are among the few places on earth with ores that contain radium. After famed chemist Marie Curie discovered the element in 1898, a mining rush hit Colorado. Throughout the early 1900s, radium was hailed as a cure-all for just about any ailment, including cancer. Not until many years later did people realize that radium was very dangerous. By that time, extensive mining in Colorado had resulted in severe contamination of the land. The Denver Radium Superfund site is one such contaminated area. The site includes several properties throughout the city. Fortunately, at one of the properties located south of Denver’s central business district, the legacy of radium contamination is being replaced with a valuable community enterprise. In 1995, The Home Depot, Inc., purchased the land and built one of its home improvement supply stores on the site. What follows is the story of how the partnership between EPA and The Home Depot led to this transformation, and of the economic impacts and environmental and social benefits that resulted.
Site SnapshotThe U.S. Bureau of Mines and the National Radium Institute entered into an agreement in the early 1900s to construct and operate a radium processing plant in Denver, because of the city’s proximity to the mines. In the late 1920s, the plant closed, leaving behind property contaminated with radioactive soil and debris. As property ownership, industrial activities, and land use changed, radioactive by-products were often left in place, used as fill or foundation materials, or otherwise mishandled. These by-products contained such contaminants as radium-226, arsenic, zinc, and lead. The most recent owner of the property was a tile and brick manufacturer who had purchased the original plant and 17 acres of the site in the 1940s. The brick and tile facility operated on the property until it moved to another location in the mid-1980s, leaving the site vacant.
Today, the site is bordered by commercial and industrial properties and lies about 1,000 feet from the South Platte River. More than 8,000 households are located within two miles of the site; the nearest residential property is located several blocks to the east.
From Home Remedy...While some people valued radium for medicinal purposes, others were using it to make luminous paint for such things as watch dials and instrument panels. Demand for these items soared during World War I, so radium production intensified. To provide the U.S. with a domestic supply of radium, the facilities in Denver processed thousands of tons of ore for every ounce of radium produced. In the 1920s, the U.S. radium industry collapsed, leaving numerous ore processing sites contaminated with radioactive by-products. In 1983, EPA added the Denver Radium site to the Agency’s list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup. After completing site investigations, EPA excavated almost 97,000 tons of radioactive soil and materials, demolished and removed radium-contaminated buildings, and shipped the contaminated materials to an EPA-approved facility equipped to handle radioactive wastes.
...To Home DepotIn 1995, The Home Depot expressed interest in buying the site to build a new store. The company entered into a partnership with EPA to participate in the cleanup of the contaminated soil in exchange for limits on the company’s liability for the contamination. Under the agreement, The Home Depot is responsible for maintaining the cap as well as for ensuring that the property is never used for residential purposes and the groundwater is never used for drinking water. EPA consolidated the soil on the site and The Home Depot constructed a protective cap over it. The capping portion of the cleanup paved the way for The Home Depot to begin construction of a 130,000 square foot store. By the end of 1996, the store, parking lot, and outdoor garden and lawn center were completed and The Home Depot was open for business.
Community BenefitsThe successful cleanup and reuse of the Denver Radium site has led to many economic, environmental, and social benefits for the local community. The cleanup and construction of The Home Depot store resulted in hundreds of temporary and permanent jobs. The resulting increase in personal income led to more revenue for the surrounding community as well as income and sales taxes for the state. In addition, the redevelopment caused a significant increase in property values for the site and for residential properties within two miles. The environmental benefits include eliminating the long-term risks posed by radium-contaminated materials, preventing the migration of metals-contaminated soil, and ensuring that any future uses of the site and groundwater remain protective of human health. The primary social benefit was the transformation of a contaminated property into a popular retail store. This improved the aesthetic quality of the area and provided new shopping opportunities for consumers. The Home Depot is also very active in the community, sponsoring community events and supporting environmental, youth, and housing charities.
Keys to SuccessTransforming the Denver Radium site took a strong partnership between EPA and The Home Depot. By freeing The Home Depot from liability associated with pre-existing contamination, EPA could negotiate a deal that made redevelopment possible. The Home Depot was able to take advantage of the site’s ideal location near downtown Denver and, by working with EPA early in the cleanup process, was able to tailor cleanup activities that would accommodate the construction of the new store. For example, EPA and The Home Depot built electric and other utility corridors into the soil cap, which protects utility workers, ensures the integrity of the cap, and saves The Home Depot money in future maintenance of their facility. EPA also worked closely with the community and the State of Colorado during site investigations and planning for the cleanup to ensure the concerns of the community and state were heard and addressed. This cooperation among all of the partners helped make the cleanup and redevelopment of the Denver Radium site a success.
For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the Denver Radium site, contact:
Rebecca J. Thomas, Remedial Project Manager
U.S. EPA Region 8
1595 Wynkoop St. - 8EPR-SR
Denver, CO 80202