Colorado officials have shut down what they call an illegal mining and milling operation south of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and above the communities of Jefferson County, saying that unincorporated chemicals like cyanide used in gold processing are a hazard to the public and represent the environment.
Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions, which says it is not a mining operation but a testing and cleaning site for other mine operators, will be closed under a state injunction until the Mining Reclamation Board takes the case later this month, Natural Resources spokesman Chris’s division Arend said.
The Mined Land Reclamation Board and its inspectors are working with water quality experts from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and other agencies to protect local community watersheds, Arend said.
In a 22-page inspection that found multiple alleged violations, state inspectors list tanks containing thousands of gallons of cyanide solution that sit over a concrete wall that failed to contain potential spills. The plant owners use a proprietary chemical process to leach precious metals from ore and used electronics. One owner told The Sun his methods “turn that waste into something useful”.
Regulators blew up the plant for a lack of contingency plans to prevent or stop a spill of dangerous chemicals. The property is located near homes and businesses on Coal Creek Canyon Road.
“Lack of solution from the tanks may have the potential to flow out of the site,” inspectors said. “The facility is immediately north of and above Barbara Gulch, an ephemeral drainage that empties east into Leyden Lake. Leyden Lake is a stormwater retention facility owned by the City of Arvada, located between Colorado 72 and West 82nd Avenues. Leyden Lake empties into Leyden Creek, which is a tributary of Ralston Creek.”
Arvada officials said the operations posed no threat to their drinking water sources.
The Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions LLC facility is pictured to the right behind homes in the Leyden Rock area of Arvada on August 2, 2022. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
The owners of the operation insist that they do not require government mining permits to operate.
“These guys came in hostile, they threatened us, and I’ve never seen an agency act like that,” said David Emslie, one of the publicly traded owners of Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions, in an interview. Emslie said the EPA and other agencies “love” the company for offering new methods of mine cleaning, and that state mine inspectors appear to have “a vendetta” against their operation.
Mining waste can be processed and “all put to good use,” Emslie said.
“A lot of these metals have to come from somewhere, and if we can unhook Superfund sites and eliminate an environmental problem while also creating jobs and creating local materials that don’t have to be shipped halfway around the world, that can be local for the manufacture of everything.” uses everything from computers to solar panels to electric cars, it’s a good idea to turn that waste into something useful,” Emslie said.
In November 2010, Emslie was featured in an I-News Network article published in the Boulder Daily Camera showing how he used a strong acid solution to re-refine gold in the garage of a Fort Collins rented home. The method he used is called “aqua regia,” and regulators were surprised to hear he used the toxic process in Colorado. The process is more common in e-waste dumps in China and Nigeria.
Inspectors with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety took photos of tanks of cyanide solution in front of Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions’ main building in July as part of their 22-page inspection report, which found the facility an illegal operation. (Provided by the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety)
A few days after the story was published, the Poudre Emslie Fire Department ordered metal refining at the College Avenue home to cease. In March 2011, the city published a notice in the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper that Emslie’s metals refinery operated without an industrial discharge permit and was not in compliance with city statutes. The published legal notice of “non-compliance with industrial pre-treatment” noted that a January 2010 city review found that wastewater discharged from Emslie’s facility “did not cause … damage to sewers, treatment plants or the environment”.
In 2019, Emslie ran afoul of state regulators at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who argued he should better dispose of gloves and filters used at his metals refining facility on Summit View Drive in Fort Collins.
State inspectors documented stockpiled ore being transported from a mine near Nederland outside Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions’ facility in Arvada. (Andy Colwell, special for The Colorado Sun)
The November 2020 CDPHE list of Approved Hazardous Materials Handlers lists Emslie’s Prospector’s Gold & Gems as a “very small producer” of hazardous waste at the same Fort Collins facility. Prospector’s Gold & Gems has posted dozens of videos online showing it processing and grinding ore and using its proprietary method to leach gold from used electronic parts.
Inspectors from the Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety found 20 tonnes of ore from the Cross and Caribou Mine above Nederland at the Rocky Flats property, which itself was placed under a cease and desist order in November 2021 by the Ministry of Health and Environment after heavy metals spilled into nearby streams were. Department water quality officials ordered mine owners to build a new containment and purification system and threatened fines of up to $54,833 a day for each of the multiple violations of the toxic metals and failure to report test results.
The Mines Reclamation Authority eventually fined the owners of the Cross and Caribou mines $17,000 for water quality violations, but suspended the fine up to $5,000 so long as Grand Island Resources continued its “good faith” efforts to install of containment and cleaning equipment.
The entrance to the Rocky Flats Environmental Solutions LLC facility is pictured in Arvada on August 2, 2022. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
The owners of the Nederland mine, Grand Island Resources, said they have sent small amounts of material to the Jefferson County facility for testing. State inspectors wrote that mine officials said they shipped 20 tons of ore to the plant in August and September last year. Grand Island Resources President Daniel Takami said his mine shipped “low-grade ore described on page two of the inspection report as ‘stockpiled ore'” to the mill site in August last year for “extractive metallurgical testing, a type of laboratory analysis that is exempt from MLRB regulations.”
“The tests we performed for us at the Highway 72 facility have not been paid for or completed while we await final approval from CDPHE,” Takami said in an email.
CORRECTION: This article and headline were updated on August 3, 2022 to clarify that Standley Lake is not owned or owned by Arvada and to update Arvada’s claim that there is no risk to drinking water .