Citizen Staff Writer
By GARRY DUFFY
Southwest Side residents want answers Monday night from environmental officials about soil contamination left at defunct mine sites near Harriet Johnson Elementary School.
Residents said they fear the Saginaw Hill site is heavily contaminated with lead and arsenic left when mines closed, possibly exposing them to toxic airborne heavy metals.
They said officials from environmental agencies have failed to take cleanup action for years, despite knowing that the site is contaminated.
“We’ve gotten the runaround for quite a while,” said Kalina Lobo, a three-year resident of the area off Valencia Road near the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. “Everyone was saying someone else was handling it.”
The site is controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Mining took place on the parcel from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s. No mines are operated in the area, but prospective miners hold claims on the site, BLM officials said yesterday.
Agency officials will be on hand Monday night to answer questions from residents, mostly about the extent of contamination and possible health threats.
Residents said officials did fence off two 10-acre parcels deemed most contaminated and filled open mine pits.
BLM said it has done more.
“Since 2003, we have been working on a cleanup plan,” Lorraine Buck, a BLM spokeswoman, said yesterday.
Heavy metals such as lead and arsenic are highly toxic. Exposure to lead is particularly dangerous to small children, who can suffer damage to the brain, kidneys and reproductive organs, said Patty Woodcock, community relations director for the Pima County Health Department.
That the site is adjacent to the elementary school fuels anxiety of residents and parents.
Resident Lobo said another concern is that the location is popular with riders of all-terrain vehicles, which kick up dust, adding to the potential that airborne contaminants could carry away from the site.
IF YOU GO:
When: Monday, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Harriet Johnson Elementary School, 6060 S. Joseph Ave.
Agencies represented: federal Bureau of Land Management, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality, Arizona Mine Inspector’s Office, Tucson Unified School District and Pima County Health Department.