Dolan Miller used to live in the remote Antelope Valley region of Nevada's Lander County. Of course, all of Lander County is remote as a 2002 population estimate pegged it at 5,691. With a land area of 5,621 square miles, the county population density is actually around 1 person per square mile.
During the years 1984 through 2005, Miller's business in the valley was growing alfalfa. He was helped on the farm by his brother, Daren Kay Miller, who was a welder and heavy equipment operator.
Daren began to get headaches, which progressively got more severe. In 2004, a year or so after Daren's headaches began, Dolan lost his 38-year-old brother to a rare brain cancer.
Dolan claims that at least five of his neighbors had been diagnosed with cancers during the last ten years. Recently, at least nine residents of Antelope Valley, population 200, have been formally diagnosed with various cancers or immune diseases.
This might have something to do with it.
(R)usted steel pesticide drums lie abandoned on the desert floor above a dump where decades of toxic refuse lie buried in shallow trenches.
Government documents show federal and state regulators required the dump site to be safely cleaned up and closed 16 years ago. But in 1993, officials failed to follow through with cleanup efforts.
State and federal officials admit laws and regulations weren’t followed because they said they were busy with other projects. They said the site is probably safe and as far as they can tell it never posed a health risk.
That doesn’t placate some Lander County residents.
“If (the regulators’) mothers or sisters or children lived around here they would have done what was supposed to be done,” said Elizabeth Wear, 51, who lived about a mile from the dump for about six years and has been diagnosed with lupus, a type of auto-immune disease.
This bears repeating. They said they were busy with other projects.
In 1971, the 2-acre Antelope Valley Pesticide Dump was opened. Procedures for proper rinsing and disposal were in place, but official records show that the procedures were not always followed.
In 1978, a Nevada Division of Environmental Protection inspection documented “approximately 100 containers scattered throughout the site, several appear to be just dumped over (the) fence. None have been crushed. Covering (the trench) is not taking place, grass is full-grown over (the) trench.”
Four months later, the inspector returned to find no change in the situation. Seven months after that, the containers were buried in a trench, but no records indicate that the liquid was removed.
In fact, the perpetually ignored pesticide dump was ignored again.
An investigation last month by the Reno Gazette-Journal documented that an abandoned pesticide container dump was ordered closed, sealed with clay and local water wells were to be monitored for contamination in 1993. Documents show that state and federal officials directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take action but the work was never done and the toxic dump was forgotten for 16 years.
Federal and state documents reported that the site poses “no significant hazard to human health or environment … (However) the shallow groundwater table conditions, high to moderate permeability of soils, and the extremely fractured bedrock in the study area make the groundwater vulnerable to contamination. It is suggested that the existing and any future disposal pits on the site be lined with impervious layers to prevent leaching into the groundwater system.” The documents also recommend the need for well water monitoring and monitor wells for five years. Although some liquid pesticide residue was removed from the site in 1992, the dump was never properly sealed and closed. The site was fenced off and signs posted.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reporter referenced is Frank X. Mullen Jr., who shouldn't be expecting any invitations to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources holiday party. In fact, they've posted a webpage specifically for damage control over the Antelope Valley story, and they go out of their way to attack Mullen's reporting. Of interest in the non-Mullen bashing portions of the page are these Q and A items:
Q: Does the site pose a health risk?
A: All data and scientific studies indicate the site does not pose a risk to human health and the environment. For clarification, this site was not a pesticide disposal site. It was for already empty and/or rinsed pesticide containers. The information contained within the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s files is posted below.
Q: What is being done now?
A: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal property manager for the site, has contacted the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) to request NDEP provide its expertise to help BLM properly close the site consistent with past direction.
Q: Why wasn’t the site closed previously?
A: NDEP advised the BLM in 1993 to take steps to close and cover the site since the federal agency was the responsible land manager. Repeated, indepedent on-site sampling/testing and scientific evaluation of the Antelope Valley site, said that there was no indication the site posed a threat to human health or to the environment. In the 1980s and 1990s, and continuing today, NDEP focuses its limited resources on sites that pose risks to human health and to the environment.
These words undoubtedly were released with the hope of reassuring the public, but it's highly probable that the residents of Antelope Valley have received them with heavy hearts and little comfort.