Tests to study the effects of radon on people in tents may be conducted at the site of a new homeless camp expected to open before the end of the month near the Durango Dog Park.
The Durango City Council directed staff to establish criteria for the study at a work session Tuesday evening. The study could eventually go out for a bid for tests at the site, which is near a former uranium mill used during the Manhattan Project.
“As elected officials, it is our responsibility to ensure it is safe for humans to sleep there,” Councilor Melissa Youssef said.
Use of the area as a homeless camp goes beyond the site’s anticipated recreational uses, which are outlined in an agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and the city. Youssef worried a differing land use might prompt a legal battle.
Councilor Dick White said the concern with radon is accumulation over time in an enclosed space and the chance of danger from radon being discovered at the site for people in tents “is close to zero.”
He added, “It also strikes me as not unreasonable to test that.”
White added that the transfer of the homeless camp west of Durango city limits to Escalante Middle School on Tuesday gives the city more time to conduct testing at the new homeless camp.
Councilors Youssef, White, Dean Brookie and Chris Bettin expressed support for staff to determine the scoping limits of the study and get cost estimates for it.
Mayor Sweetie Marbury objected, asking if the study would cover the full acre site, or a 10-foot section of the camp. She also worried about its cost at a time when the city is examining budget cuts.
“It costs about $150 to test a house,” Bettin said. “I seriously doubt it would be much more expensive.”
He said councilors could get estimates for the test’s cost and then determine if they would go forward and put the study out for bid.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall said because no habitable structures would be built, he did not think the study would be necessary.
In addition, Hall cautioned that a test for radon would not satisfy a request from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that advises the city do a more in-depth and more costly risk assessment of the site.
The state health department recently sent a letter to the city recommending officials complete a health-risk assessment because radioactive materials were left on the site and the risk to those staying overnight on the land is unknown.
The city does not believe a health-risk assessment is necessary because the city would not have accepted ownership of a property that was in a contaminated and unsafe condition, Hall said in an email to The Durango Herald.