Suspected paint dump spreads fumes in Steamboat townhomes

Storm drains used as dumping


— The apparent chemical dump that affected residents at Mountain Vista Townhomes in Steamboat Springs earlier this month serves as a reminder that grated storm drains lead directly to the environment and, ultimately, the Yampa River.

City of Steamboat Springs Water Resource Manager Kelly Romero Heaney said she and Steamboat Fire Rescue, as well as personnel from the city street and water departments, responded March 2 to the townhouse complex in the Hilltop/Tamarack neighborhood after the fire department received a report of strong odors in the buildings.

“It appears somebody had dumped what was likely stain or lacquer or something into the storm drain … and even though it appears to have been less than five gallons ... the vapors were so strong they were able to move back into the building through the foundation drain pipe and were seeping into (the) crawl space.”

Don’t dump it in the storm drain

Routt County residents can take advantage of a paint-recycling program authorized by the Colorado Legislature in 2014 that partners retailers with a nonprofit called PaintCare to collect and recycle all but 2 to 4 percent of unwanted painting at no additional charge.

The program is funded by a state law that imposes small fees on paint purchases, beginning at 35 cents for pints and quarts and increasing to 75 cents for gallons and $1.60 for five-gallon buckets. As a result, people dropping paint off at the recycling program won't have to pull out their debit cards.

Participating retailers in Steamboat Springs are Ace at the Curve, 2155 Curve Plaza, and Sherwin Williams, 385-A Anglers Drive.

There are some restrictions — the program will reject paint in containers without the original label. For more information, visit

Steamboat Police investigated the incident — one of four illicit discharges that week — and the matter was reported to the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.

In Colorado, there are penalties for failing to report the release of any hazardous pollutant or contaminant into the natural environment.

Since 2015, appropriately disposing of unwanted paint products in Steamboat has been convenient and come with no additional charge. Two retailers here — Ace at the Curve and Sherwin Williams, one on either side of town — will accept old paint and stain at no charge.

Romero Heaney manages the city's stormwater permit with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The city has for years alerted residents not to dump chemicals and other compounds into storm drains. With the help of students and Yampatika, images of trout and a cautionary message are stenciled on concrete gutters adjacent to storm drains. But in the latest case, the suspected chemical dump took place on private property, where the drain was part of the internal storm water management system.

Romero Heaney said it appears the chemicals (samples are undergoing testing at a local lab) found their way into a small cattail pond on the property off Tamarack Drive and moved back into the residential buildings through a foundation drainpipe, then the crawl space. The odors were persistent enough they affected occupants for several days.

“It was volatile enough that, after a few days, it did dissipate,” Romero Heaney said. “But, in the meantime, the vapors were going right into nearby homes.”

The purpose of storm drains is to move snowmelt and water that has collected during rain storms away from buildings. According to the state health department, the common negative effect of illicit dumping into urban storm drains is the potential buildup of heavy metals, including lead and zinc. High levels of coliform bacteria are also present in urban runoff.

The town of Hayden, downstream from Steamboat, draws its water from the Yampa River, and the the state health department noted that chemicals introduced into waterways through storm drains often affect drinking water sources. This, in turn, impacts the cost of treating the water and can lead to human health issues.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


Stuart Orzach 2 weeks ago

What's a few gallons of paint compared to the tons of dog waste that wash into our streams and rivers every year? When does dog waste become an environmental hazard?


Ben Tiffany 2 weeks ago

Stuart, As bad as large amounts of dog waste washing into our streams,rivers and lakes each year might be,I'm guessing that it is easier to clean up than seriously hazardous chemicals. I don't know how a water treatment plant deals with several gallons of lacquer thinner or its equivalent passing through its cleaning systems;they must have a way,because obviously this sort of thing happens.


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