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A Brief History Page-Trowbridge Radioactive/Toxic Waste Landfill

Part 1

Map of Area Surrounding Page-Trowbridge
The timeline below outlines a short history the Page-Trowbridge radioactive and toxic chemical waste dump. 

The timeline is a synopsis of material found in University of Arizona Page-Trowbridge Ranch Radioactive/Toxic Waste Landfill Report, by Web Parton. 

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Circa 1922:
J.T. Page Begins a New Life
J.T. Page retires at age 65 from his job as a Kansas City street car conductor and travels to Arizona with his wife.

Page starts a small ranch a few miles from Oracle Junction.

J.T. Page is a visionary who sees an alternative to mechanized, large scale farming.  He nurtures and recovers the grasslands on his property.

Circa 1940:
Page's Wife Dies
Page's wife dies and Page, in what he later describes as a "moment of weakness" allows friends to persuade him to move to town and accept an old age pension from the state.

A young man is hired to take care of the place and continue with the work.

January 22nd, 1941:
J.T. Page Donates His Ranch To The U of A
Deed (click for larger view)At the age of 83, J.T Page transfers his land to the University of Arizona for the sum of $10 dollars.

February, 1941:
". . . I wanted to be sure what was done with it"
Page recounts his motivation for donating his land to the U of A to the author of a story about him in American Forest Magazine:
". . . . I felt that owed something to the state that was paying me a pension.  I could pay that debt by building up the land for the future.  It would be better for the next generation and would be worth more in taxes to the state.  Of course, I could have sold the place, but I wanted to be sure what would be done with it."

September 1941:
The U of A On The Use Of Page Ranch
The U of A Board of Regents accepts an adjoining 10 acres from Emma G. Kerr, widow of James A. Kerr, also for the sum of $10.

A U of A document records a possible focus and philosophy of the Page Ranch Activities:

"The Page Ranch can become a unique field station for experimental research and demonstration projects related to appropriate systems and technologies for living in arid regions.  The focus could be on rural/remote situations, with an emphasis towards self-sufficiency, decentralization and appropriateness for developing nations"


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Circa mid 1940's, to 1962:
The Atomic Age Begins and Page Ranch Becomes a Radioactive Dump
Hiroshima and Nagasaki usher in the Atomic Age.

Scientists from all of Arizona Universities, rush to study and improve the new technology.

A problem of what to do with the deadly, malignant waste arises.

Someone at the U of A thinks of Page Ranch.  Holes are dug and the pesky waste buried in unlined pits dug to a depth of 10 to  15 feet.
The University of Arizona acknowledges that there was "prior use" of the Page Ranch for waste disposal before they obtained a permit for dumping radioactive waste from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1962.

It is safe to assume that during this "prior use" of Page Ranch prior to 1962 only radioactive waste was disposed of at Page Ranch -- because during the 40's and 50's the standard practice was to simply pour non radioactive compounds down the lab sink.

Now consider this: 

Page Ranch is a sector of land 1 mile on a side. 

The Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste landfill consumes three and a half acres of the Page-Ranch. 

Aerial View Of Page Ranch
Aerial Image of Page-Ranch Taken July 25, 1995
Image From The Microsoft TerraServer Site
(click on image for larger view)
Since the University of Arizona acknowledges that there was "prior use" of the Page Ranch for waste disposal before they obtained a permit for dumping radioactive waste from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1962, the following question arises: 
Where on Page Ranch was the waste that was disposed of prior to 1962 buried?
Available records from the University of Arizona don't answer this question. 

The official records do tell us that the only area that was capped (to prevent rainfall from washing the toxic mixture into the aquifer), were two units at the Page-Trowbridge landfill. 

In other words, it is plausible that there is radioactive waste that has laid buried somewhere on Page-Ranch for over 40 years without a protective cap over it.


Circa 1960 to 1962:
The Military Closes A Well 
A well, to be used to provide Air Force personell with drinking water is drilled at Titan Missile base #01, some 4000 feet south of the Page Ranch dump site.

Analysis of the water showed it to be radioactive.  The Air Force completely capped the well and made arrangements to obtain their ground water from Oracle.
The turnoff to the old missle site is approximately one mile west of Willow Springs road on highway 77 (i.e. about two miles west of the turnoff to Biosphere 2)


The U of A Applies For A Permit To Dump Radioactive Waste at Page Ranch
After decades of dumping radio active waste at Page Ranch, the U of A applies to the Atomic Energy Commission for a permit to dump radioactive waste at that facility.
Barrels filled with radioactive wastes circa 1970's
Barrels filled with radioactive wastes circa 1970's
J.T. Page's ranch, which he bequeathed to the U of A  to continue his work in arid land ranching officially becomes the Page-Trowbridge radioactive and toxic waste landfill.
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Dumping Continues With Frequent Explosions
Burning Toxic Waste At Page-Trowbridge
Burning Toxic Waste At Page-Trowbridge, Circa Mid '70's, Photo by Jim Glaze
Dumping of radioactive and toxic chemical waste continues through the '70's. 

The waste in the open pits is ignited by the workers, unless the material ignites spontaneously.  From an inspection report dated April 24, 1978:

"The chemicals frequently self-ignite.  If the chemicals do not self-ignite and there is any danger that they may explode later the chemicals are ignited"
The results are sometimes exciting.  The December, 11 1974 report of an inspector that traveled to Page-Trowbridge to observe the disposal process, records "a dilly" of a bang:
"Fires and explosions do occur in the pits.  Thick acid smoke is also produced.  A violet (sic) explosion did occur during this inspection that did result in injury.  The explosion may also have caused damage to the U of A pick up which is equipped with a 55 gal. water barrel plus pump and hose.  The fallout of of chemicals was rather minor.  This inspection (sic) was actually blown off his feet by the explosion. 

Potential disaster was averted because the explosion was downward which increased the size of the pit.  There was some flying glass and metal.  Generally the explosion (sic) are usually small, but this one was a dilly. There is some pollution (air) danger to humans and animals."

The drums of water, hoses and pumps were not only used for emergency situations, but routinely used to extinguish the burning material before the U of A personell left. 

Dowsing down burning toxins with water would have dispersed the malignant material into the ground giving it a sort of 'kick start' towards the aquifer that supplies you the water you now drink, bathe in and use to brush your children's teeth.

 April 20th 1978:
Pinal County Authorities Discover the Page-Trowbridge Radioactive and Toxic Chemical dump
Even though the U of A has been dumping deadly radioactive and toxic chemical lab waste at Page-Trowbridge for three or more decades, the existence of the site is still unknown to Pinal County officials.

This situation changes in April of 1978.

On Thursday April 20th, 1978 a substantial column of thick black, oily smoke rises in the in the air over Page-Trowbridge.  The plume catches the attention of personnel at Goulder Fire Department in the small town of Catalina Arizona, some seven miles south of the radioactive dump site. 

Since the Goulder Fire Department is in Pima county and the strange and unnatural fire is clearly in Pinal County, the firemen immediately notify the Pinal County Sheriff's department. 

The Pinal County Sheriff's department, thinking the billowing black smoke is a fuel fire from a crashed airplane, contact Davis Monthan Air Force Base.  Davis Monthan personnel report that a plane is, in fact, overdue.

Emergency vehicles from both the Pinal County Sheriff's and Fire Departments roll to the scene, lights flashing and sirens screaming.

Burning Toxic Waste At Page-Trowbridge
Burning Toxic Waste At Page-Trowbridge, Circa Mid '70's, Photo by Jim Glaze

The Pinal County authorities arrive to  discover several U of A employees standing around a burning pit belching copious amounts of sooty black smoke into the otherwise pristine springtime air. 

The Pinal County authorities threaten the U of A personnel with arrest. 

The U of A employees explain that this is a standard operating procedure that has been going on every month for at least ten years. The U of A employees offer the the myriad covered pits as proof of the fact that this is far from an isolated incident, and the U of A personnel are allowed to leave the scene.

 April 21st 1978:
Pinal County Authorities Angered
L.C. Copisch, Director of Air Quality Control for Pinal County calls R.E. Dorsey, director of the U of A's Risk Management office, on the phone.

Copisch is extremely irate and accuses the University of "sneaking into Pinal County all these years and polluting our air".  Copisch says he is going to get an injunction to prevent the University from doing this sort of thing again.

A memorandum from Dorsey sums up the Universities reaction to Pinal County officials discovering the radioactive/toxic dump.  In the memo, Dorsey writes:

“Whether or not Mr. Copisch will purse the matter is uncertain. In either case the University will probably no longer be able to operate as we have in the past.”
Evidently Copisch changed his mind about the injunction, as the dumping of radioactive and toxic chemical waste continued unabated for several more years.

The University of Arizona began keeping records showing the amount of toxic chemical wastes disposed of at Page-Trowbridge in 1978.

While it is certain that the University had been polluting the air of Pinal County, what was not understood in 1978 is that the University had been polluting the land for decades . . . land directly above an aquifer that flows under the wellheads of SaddleBrooke, Oracle, Catallina, Oracle Junction, Sun City Vistoso, northwest Tucson and Marana.

Toxic Waste Being Disposed Of At Page-Trowbridge, Circa Mid '70's
Toxic Wastes Burning in Unlined Pit At Page Trowbridge Circa Mid '70's

Part 2 -->

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