Recent testing from soil samples collected inside and around the mill documented very high levels of lead, arsenic and mercury in the parking area, waste rock piles and around and inside the mill. While it is not unexpected to have these heavy metals at a mine or milling site, the levels of contamination at Santiago Mill are very high and present a public health and safety hazard. In addition, the mine structure and open mine entrance are unstable and at risk of collapse.
The Santiago Mill is a destination for many jeep clubs, off road vehicles and bicyclists. People walking and driving through the parking area, across the waste piles outside of the mill and even into the mill structure are putting themselves at risk of exposure. The dust they kick up releases lead, mercury and arsenic into the air they breathe it and it lands on their shoes and clothing. Even small amounts of exposure to these toxic minerals can be damaging to humans and animals.
The U.S. Forest Service will be hiring contractors to remove, consolidate, contain and cap heavily contaminated soils. Planning is underway this summer and work on the ground is expected to begin next year. Working closely with the Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation, Georgetown Historic Trust, and the Colorado State Historic Preservation Officer, the Forest Service is looking for opportunities to complete the project with preservation of the mill, designated trails and an educational and interpretive program that will allow future visitors to safely enjoy visiting the site.
For the next several summer seasons, volunteer stewards from the Friends of the Santiago will provide information at the gate where the closure area begins on Forest Service Road 248.2D. Jeep clubs, motorists and others looking for recreational opportunities in the area can find more areas to explore further west on FSR 248.1. Any entry into the geographic alpine basin where the Santiago Mill is located, whether on or off road, is prohibited until the area reopens.
Santiago Mill is an increasingly rare example of an early- to mid-20th century American floatation mill located on National Forest System lands. Built in 1935, the mill was used for concentrating locally mined gold, silver and lead ore, utilizing the floatation process. It is one of the last complete depression-era mills standing. The Santiago Mill is listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.