Campus & Community / News

April showers bring deadly runoff, law students say

A pile of shingles at a recycling center known as “Shingle Mountain” is now under fire from its north Denver neighbors, environmentalists, and University of Denver law students. Photo: Chase Squires

For more than a year, Drew Dutcher has lived in the shadow of what neighbors call “Shingle Mountain,” a pile of discarded roofing shingles that may have crossed the line from eyesore to community health menace.

Now, University of Denver Sturm College of Law students are demanding the north Denver shingle recycling business Shingles 4 Recycling do something about the 30-foot-high mountain of broken shingles they say is oozing potentially contaminated runoff onto area streets and possibly into the Platte River.

Working under the guidance of DU’s Environmental Law Clinic Director, Michael Harris, student lawyers Stephanie Fairbanks and Eric Wilson have sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue to Shingles 4 Recycling on behalf of area residents and environmental activists. If the company doesn’t cut the pile down and cover it, the students plan to file a lawsuit in federal court under the Clean Water Act, Harris says.

There are multiple shingle piles around the site, but the largest is visible at the corner of East 51st Avenue and Columbine Street. Harris says neighbors are concerned about runoff from the unsightly debris, which is uncovered and is threatening to spill past damaged container fences.

“Locals call it ‘Shingle Mountain,’ for obvious reasons,” Harris says. “What we see here of course is, for community members, quite an eyesore. But it’s also a potential fire hazard and an environmental hazard. There’s asbestos and other types of metals and organics coming loose, getting into the air, and on a rainy day washing right off into the street here and into the Platte River, which is just 1,100 yards away.”

Even if those materials don’t make it to the river they pose a threat, Harris says. Chemicals and metals left behind on the street are kicked up into the air by passing vehicles and contaminate the area, he says.

Dutcher says residents worry about possible airborne and waterborne contaminants.

“There are just so many questions about it. There are health questions, there are groundwater questions, storm water questions, and there are fire questions,” Dutcher says. “What happens in the case of winds, and rain and snow? Where does the runoff go?”

A study prepared for the Construction Materials Recycling Association finds the primary concerns about asphalt shingle recycling is asbestos, which was used in shingle manufacturing from the 1800s until as late as the 1980s. Health risks from the asbestos are highest for plant workers and nearby residents, the report finds.

The Environmental Law Clinic is representing four residents in the Elyria/Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods of north Denver as well as the 4,000-member nonprofit environmental group WildEarth Guardians.

Harris says the hope is that business owner William Scott will come into compliance within the 60-day window without involving regulators. But if the situation isn’t addressed, Harris says the students are prepared to file a complaint in federal court.

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