Leadville, Colorado - A former military base that was once home to about 17,000 soldiers training to fight in World War II has been closed by its governing body, the U.S. Forest Service, citing the presence of “isolated surface deposits” of asbestos on the property.
According to an article in the Summit Daily, the base – which is located between Red Cliff and Leadville, Colorado – was deactivated in 1965 and given back to the Forestry Service in 1966. Eagle/Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neely confirmed that camp was broken down around that time and he believes that the asbestos material is indeed related to the former presence of the base, noting that it was found in areas where warehouse facilities and other camp buildings were once located.
The asbestos materials were confirmed by the Army Corps of Engineers on September 25. The Corps is now working at Camp Hale under the auspices of the U.S. Army Environmental Command's Military Munitions Response Program, which addresses safety, health, and environmental issues at old military bases throughout the country. However, the asbestos was first found by the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment late last autumn, but its presence couldn’t be confirmed until after snow melted, said Adam Little, the Camp Hale project manager.
Little noted that air quality was monitored this summer and it appeared that asbestos was not being released into the air, where it could be inhaled and cause lung damage. However, he said, the possibility of airborne fibers has not been totally ruled out.
“Next week we're looking to get a crew out there to some areas to spray an agent on there to reduce the potential for airborne fibers,” Little explained.
Nonetheless, the Forest Service announced that “protection of public safety is our highest priority while we develop a long-term strategy for mitigation of the resource with our partners.” Neely confirmed that the public safety risk was indeed still being evaluated.
The area where the asbestos was found was closed to campers a few years ago and motorized traffic was restricted in the area earlier this summer. However, hunters arrived for the start of rifle season last Friday though most appeared unconcerned.
The Forest Service explained that travel is allowed through the main entrance of Camp Hale and on to other roads, but travel through the Camp Hale valley floor is restricted to specific trails. They also posted closure information for the benefit of the hunters.
Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious respiratory problems, including the development of cancer. U.S. veterans that served on military bases and in shipyards during and after World War II and until the late 1970s were continuously exposed to asbestos materials. These veterans, especially U.S. Navy vets, are prime candidates for developing asbestos-caused mesothelioma cancer and account for about one-third of all cases of the disease diagnosed each year in the U.S.