Category Archives: Skyline Mine

4/4/2012 New York Times Green Blog: Uranium, Cattle Grazing and Risks Unknown

April 4, 2012, 3:40 pm Uranium, Cattle Grazing and Risks Unknown By LESLIE MACMILLAN Joshua Lott for The New York TimesA cattle ranch near an abandoned uranium mine in Cameron, Ariz.  As I reported last weekend in The Times, a cattle rancher stumbled upon an abandoned uranium mine in the summer of 2010 on his grazing land, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon on the Navajo reservation, and notified federal officials. They came in with Geiger counters and found levels of radioactivity that were alarmingly high.  A year and a half later, the former mine in Cameron, Ariz., is not fenced off to either humans or animals, and cattle continue to roam through the site and eat grass that might be tainted with uranium and other toxic substances.

“Those cattle go to auction in Sun Valley and are sold on the open market,” said Ronald Tohannie, a project manager with the Navajo advocacy group Forgotten People. “Then people eat the meat.”

The owner of Valley Livestock Auction in Sun Valley, Ariz., Derrek Wagoner, confirmed that he buys cattle from the Navajo reservation and is aware that cattle graze on uranium mines there. He added that cattle come to him from all over the Southwest, where there are plenty of former uranium mines.

There is no dispute that beef and milk from those cattle make their way into the food chain. What is not precisely known is how much radioactive material plants absorb through the soil, how much the cattle ingest by grazing on the plants and what the effect might be on humans.

Livestock grazing around the abandoned mines is common throughout the Southwest, according to many environmentalists, scientists, government officials and people in the cattle business. The Colorado Plateau is particularly rich in minerals and in the former mines, which for 40 years supplied crucial materials for the nation’s cold-war nuclear weapons program.

But the effect of the radioactivity on the food chain remains an open question. “There’s just not a lot of data,” said Chris Shuey, an environmental health specialist with the Southwest Research and Information Center. “That’s because mining ended 25 years ago, and the studies ended then, too.”

Yet a resurgence in corporate interest in mining uranium has brought a new wave of studies. In a 2010 report, the Department of the Interior said that proposals for uranium mining at sites adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona had prompted the agency “to investigate physical, chemical, and biological issues potentially affected by mining.”

In January, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium and other hard-rock mining claims on a million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon, saying it was needed to preserve the mile-deep canyon and the river that runs through it. The mining industry is challenging that decision in court.

The Interior report summarizes the available findings, saying that although conclusive data is lacking, studies have indicated that toxic substances like uranium and its decay products — including radium and radon — “can affect the survival, growth, and reproduction of plants and animals.” It cited reptiles, birds and “mammalian wildlife that represent essential components of the food web.”

David Shafer, a manager in Colorado for the Department of Energy, one of several federal agencies involved in cleaning up the legacy of cold-war uranium mining on the Navajo reservation, said the Department of Energy was studying how much uranium is absorbed by plants but that its research remained incomplete. “We don’t know what the uptake is,” he said.

“Milk is very stringently tested,” possibly because it is a staple of children’s diets, Mr. Shafer said. “Beef is less so.”

After cattle are auctioned off, they go to various processing facilities where they are butchered and tested for contaminants under U.S.D.A. standards, Mr. Wagoner of the livestock auction company said.

However, federal standards do not include routine screening for toxic chemicals like uranium and its decay products. Standard testing includes biological contaminants like E. coli and salmonella and physical substances like bits of metal that might fall inside a meat grinder. But beef is only spot-checked for chemical contaminants, said Janet McGinn, a senior officer with the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

When an animal is spot-checked for such substances, it is either because it was chosen as part of a random sampling of the entire population or because it is suspected to be ill.

The lack of data makes some experts uneasy. “We still can’t answer fundamental questions — are there wide population health effects due to uranium mining?” said Mr. Shuey, the environmental health specialist.

“Immune function, kidney disease, high blood pressure — all these things contribute to the burden of ill health” and could be affected by uranium, he said, “but we don’t know for sure.”

“Now there are companies that want to mine uranium again,” he said, “and we’re still a couple of generations away from dealing with the totality of that legacy.”

“We still can’t answer fundamental questions — are there wide population health effects due to uranium mining?”

Chris Shuey,
Southwest Research
and Information Center

For people who make a living off the land, tainted cattle is a topic of endless speculation. “They get it in multiple pathways,” said Larry Gordy, the rancher who found the mine on his property and alerted federal officials two years ago. “Cattle eat plants covered with radioactive dust, they breathe in radon, and they drink contaminated water.”

In the arid Southwestern region, water is a precious commodity, and it is collected through various systems throughout the Navajo reservation. Dan Canyon, a former rancher, said that irrigation dams collect water from runoff and some of it comes from former uranium mines, where it can be contaminated by ore tailings.

Standing atop one such dam in Cameron, Ariz., a slope of earth dotted by sagebrush and scored by rivets, Mr. Canyon gestured toward the former mine directly above it. For years, his cattle grazed here.

“I sold my cattle,” he said. “I didn’t want to be responsible for contaminated meat on the market.”

Joshua Lott for The New York TimesLarry Gordy, a Navajo rancher, near the abandoned uranium mine he found on his property in Cameron, Ariz.  Federal officials measured high levels of radioactivity there.

4/1/2012 New York Times: Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous

4/1/2012 New York Times: Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous: An abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo reservation in Cameron, Ariz., emits dangerous levels of radiation. By LESLIE MACMILLAN New York Times April 1, 2012 CAMERON, Ariz. — In the summer of 2010, a Navajo cattle rancher named Larry Gordy stumbled upon an abandoned uranium mine in the middle of his grazing land and figured he had better call in the feds. Engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived a few months later, Geiger counters in hand, and found radioactivity levels that buried the needles on their equipment.

The abandoned mine here, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon, joins the list of hundreds of such sites identified across the 27,000 square miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer and other diseases.

 

The radioactivity at the former mine is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors and other serious health damage, according to Lee Greer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. Two days of exposure at the Cameron site would expose a person to more external radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers safe for an entire year.

The E.P.A. filed a report on the rancher’s find early last year and pledged to continue its environmental review. But there are still no warning signs or fencing around the secluded and decaying site. Crushed beer cans and spent shell casings dot the ground, revealing that the old mine has become a sort of toxic playground.

“If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive,” said Doug Brugge, a public health professor at Tufts University medical school and an expert on uranium. “The site is remote, but there are obviously people spending time on it. Don’t they deserve some concern?”

Navajo advocates, scientists and politicians are asking the same question.

The discovery came in the midst of the largest federal effort to date to clean up uranium mines on the vast Indian reservation. A hearing in 2007 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led to a multiagency effort to assess and clean up hundreds of structures on the reservation through a five-year plan that ends this year.

Yet while some mines have been “surgically scraped” of contamination and are impressive showpieces for the E.P.A., others, like the Cameron site, are still contaminated. Officials at the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy attribute the delay to the complexity of prioritizing mine sites. Some say it is also about politics and money.

“The government can’t afford it; that’s a big reason why it hasn’t stepped in and done more,” said Bob Darr, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. “The contamination problem is vast.”

If the government can track down a responsible party, he said, it could require it to pay for remediation. But most of the mining companies that operated on the reservation have long since gone out of business, Mr. Darr said.

To date, the E.P.A., the Department of Energy and other agencies have evaluated 683 mine sites on the land and have selected 34 structures and 12 residential yards for remediation. The E.P.A. alone has spent $60 million on assessment and cleanup.

Cleaning up all the mines would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Clancy Tenley, a senior E.P.A. official who oversees the uranium legacy program for the agency in the Southwest.

Some say the effort has been marred by bureaucratic squabbles and a tendency to duck responsibility. “I’ll be the first to admit that the D.O.E. could work better with the E.P.A.,” said David Shafer, an environmental manager at the energy agency.

Determining whether uranium is a result of past mining or is naturally occurring is “a real debate” and can delay addressing the problem, Mr. Shafer said. He cited seepage of uranium contaminants into the San Juan River, which runs along the boundary of the reservation, as an example. “We need to look at things like this collectively and not just say it’s E.P.A.’s problem or D.O.E.’s problem,” he said.

E.P.A. officials said their first priority was to address sites near people’s homes. “In places where we see people living in close proximity to a mine and there are elevated readings, those are rising to the top of the list for urgent action,” Mr. Tenley said.

Agency officials said they planned a more thorough review of the Cameron site — which still has no warning signs posted — within the next six months.

Meanwhile, Navajos continue to be exposed to high levels of radioactivity in the form of uranium and its decay products, like radon and radium. Those materials are known to cause health problems, including bone, liver, breast and lung cancer.

Lucy Knorr, 68, of Tuba City, Ariz., grew up near the VCA No. 2 mine operated by the Kerr-McGee Corporation, now defunct. Her father, a former miner, died of lung cancer at age 55 in 1980, and her family received a payout of $100,000 under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a law that was enacted after her mother hired a lawyer and testified before Congress.

The program has awarded $1.5 billion for 23,408 approved claims since it was enacted in 1990.

Ms. Knorr’s father was one of hundreds of Navajos who did not wear protective gear while working in the mine. “He’d wash at a basin outside” after leaving the mine, she said, “and the water would just turn yellow.”

The government has been successful in tracking down and holding some former mining companies accountable. The E.P.A. is requiring that General Electric spend $44 million to clean up its Northeast Church Rock Mine, near Gallup, N. M. Chevron is paying to clean up the Mariano Lake Mine, also in New Mexico.

When the government cannot locate a responsible party, which is most often the case, the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy work with the tribal authorities to reach cleanup decisions. In general, the E.P.A. handles mines, while the Energy Department is responsible for the mills where the ore was processed and enriched.

One of the Department of Energy’s biggest priorities is a billion-dollar uranium mine cleanup that is under way in Moab, Utah, and that received $108 million in federal stimulus money and the backing of nine congressmen.

Some Navajo officials point out that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium and other hard-rock mining claims on one million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon in January, saying it was needed to preserve the mile-deep canyon and the river that runs through it. The mining industry is challenging that decision in court.

But the Navajo Nation, considered a sovereign government entity, has not gotten similar treatment from the federal government for its land, some of its officials say. The nation has asked for $500 million for mine cleanup, but the money has not materialized, said Eugene Esplain, one of two officials with the Navajo E.P.A. responsible for patrolling an area the size of West Virginia.

Taylor McKinnon, a director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that worked to halt new mining claims near the Grand Canyon, said the Cameron site was the worst he had seen in the Southwest. He has even seen cow droppings near the mine, he said, an indication that cattle are grazing there. And “people are eating those livestock,” he said.

Ronald Tohannie, a project manager with the Navajo advocacy group Forgotten People, said the locally grown beef was tested at the slaughterhouse, but not for the presence of radioactive substances like uranium.

When E.P.A. officials in the California office overseeing the region were asked to accompany a reporter to the Cameron mine site, they countered with an offer to visit the Skyline Mine in Utah, on the northern boundary of the reservation in Monument Valley, where a big federal cleanup was completed last October.

The onetime mine, atop a 1,000-foot mesa, provides a sweeping panorama of the red valley below. Just one tiny dwelling is visible, the packed-earth hogan of Elsie Begay, a 71-year-old Navajo woman. Ms. Begay was featured in a series of articles in The Los Angeles Times in 2006 about serious illnesses that several of her family members developed after living in the area for many years.

The publicity “might have bumped the site up the priority list,” said Jason Musante, who oversaw the $7.5 million cleanup of the mine for the E.P.A.

In trailers and cinder-block dwellings on the Navajo reservation, there is deep cynicism and apprehension about the federal effort. “That’s what they want you to see: something that’s all nice and cleaned up,” said the Navajo manager of a hotel near the Skyline mine. He asked not to be identified, saying that he had already come under government scrutiny for collecting water samples from the San Juan River for uranium testing at a private lab.

For some Navajos, the uranium contamination is all of a piece with their fraught relationship with the federal government.

“They’re making excuses, and they’ve always made excuses,” Ms. Knorr said. “The government should have had a law in place that told these mining companies: you clean up your mess when you leave.”

A version of this article appeared in print on April 1, 2012, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous.

Tainted Desert, Tufts magazine article by Leslie Macmillian

“Tainted Desert”, Tufts magazine article by Leslie MacmillianTainted Desert, Tufts Magazine by Leslie Mac Mill Ian

11/10/2011 Blog posting by Robert Sabie, Jr. FP uranium proximity map winner EPA apps for the environment challenge

11/10/2011 Blog Posting by Robert Sabie, Jr.: First off, I want to say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to work with The Forgotten People. I was introduced to Marsha Monestersky, Program Director of Forgotten People during a phone conference back in January of 2011 by my professor, Troy Abel, whom Marsha had met at an EPA environmental justice forum in Washington D.C. That was my first time of hearing of the many issues that the Navajo people faced, especially in the Tuba City/Cameron area. I felt moved by the stories that Marsha told me.

In June of 2011, Dr. Abel and I made a short trip to the Navajo Nation. Like no other place I have visited, the landscape of the Navajo Nation is both unique and beautiful. We were invited to meet several families and appreciated being welcome into their homes. This was also my first experience eating fry bread which I found delicious, although my stomach didn’t know quite what to think about it. We met Ronald Tohannie, who has been a leader in using a GPS unit in mapping various items around the area. Ronald gave us a tour of the water hauling routes and delivery points. We also were able to attend one of the water deliveries and witness how difficult obtaining safe drinking water was for many families. On our last evening in the area we attended a community planning meeting at James Peshlakai’s home in Cameron. I could tell that James was a great teacher by his ability to illustrate his points by means of story telling. Meeting some of the families was the most important aspect of taking on this project.

After completing the project, Dr. Abel suggested at the last minute that I enter my map in an EPA contest. I had no idea that this project would take me to Washington D.C. This past week Dr. Abel and I spent two days at the Apps for the Environment forum in Washington D.C. The morning that we left D.C. I was honored by being given the opportunity to speak in front of several important people from the EPA. They wanted me to speak about the technology of the online map. Although I highlighted some of the features of the online map, I chose to focus on telling a story. I told the story of Marsha and Don Yellowman meeting Dr. Abel at the environmental justice forum. I spoke of our trip to Cameron and meeting people without access to safe drinking water. I told them that they cannot solve problems with technology in offices in Washington D.C. I told them that in order for technology to help solve problems, they need to empower communities with the knowledge and ability to use that technology.

Moving forward, I think that this project may provide momentum for The Forgotten People. Being an outsider, I realize that I only have a basic understanding of what the Navajo people need. My suggestion is that The Forgotten People use my project as a stepping stone to ask more specific questions. When Marsha met Dr. Abel at the environmental justice conference she asked, “Who can help us with mapping?” That question has been answered. The next questions could be how can this map help your community and what would make the map more useful?

The other night I sent an email to Marsha and in that email I told her that “although I am being recognized for my mapping abilities, the greatest reward is knowing that more awareness is being raised about the issues faced by the communities of the Navajo Nation and that the people are not forgotten.” Thank you again and I look forward to continuing to contribute in your fight for environmental justice.

Sincerely,
Robert Sabie, Jr.

11/8/2011 FP congratulates Robert Sabie, WWU – EPA Announces Winners of Apps for the Environment Challenge

Forgotten People congratulates Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University.  11/8/2011 EPA Announces Winners of Apps for the Environment Challenge WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the winners of its Apps for the Environment challenge, which encouraged new and innovative uses of EPA’s data to create apps that address environmental and public health issues.  Developers from across the country created apps with information about everything from energy efficient light bulbs to local air quality. A few even developed games to help people learn environmental facts.

“Innovators from across the country have used information to help people protect our health and the environment,” said Malcolm Jackson, EPA’s Chief Information Officer. “The winners of the Apps for the Environment challenge demonstrate that it’s possible to transform data from EPA and elsewhere into applications that people can use.”

The five winners are:

·      Winner, Best Overall App: Light Bulb Finder by Adam Borut and Andrea Nylund of EcoHatchery, Milwaukee, Wis.

  • Runner Up, Best Overall App: Hootroot by Matthew Kling of Brighter Planet, Shelburne, Vt.
  • Winner, Best Student App: EarthFriend by Ali Hasan and Will Fry of Differential Apps and Fry Development Company, Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant, N.C. and J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, N.C.
  • Runner Up, Best Student App: Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping by Robert Sabie, Jr. of Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash.
  • Popular Choice Award: CG Search by Suresh Ganesan of Cognizant Technology Solutions, South Plainfield, N.J.

Winners will demonstrate their submissions at the Apps for the Environment forum today in Arlington, Va. The forum will include panels on business, technology, and government initiatives, breakout sessions by EPA’s program offices, upcoming developer challenges and future directions about environmental applications.

All contestants will retain intellectual property rights over their submissions, though winners agree that their submissions will be available on the EPA website for free use and download by the public for a period of one year following the announcement of the winners.

More information about the winners and other submissions: http://appsfortheenvironment.challenge.gov/submissions

More information about EPA’s Apps for the Environment forum: http://www.epa.gov/appsfortheenvironment/forum.html

CONTACT:

Latisha Petteway (News Media Only)

petteway.latisha@epa.gov

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10/10/2011 Gallup Independent: Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed

10/10/2011 Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed by Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall sought assurances Thursday from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Navajos living in Crownpoint would have a safe source of drinking water if Hydro Resources Inc. carries through with its plans for in situ mining of uranium in the Westwater Canyon Aquifer. In a hearing on cleanup of legacy uranium sites before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, Udall also pressed the NRC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on proposed future uranium mining operations.

“Crownpoint is the location of a proposed in-situ leach uranium recovery operation near the Churchrock legacy site, and I understand the NRC has set up a license for HRI at the Crownpoint site that is dependent on several conditions, including legacy cleanup,” Udall said, and asked the NRC to clarify the status and content of HRI’s permit.

Michael Weber of the NRC said HRI, a subsidiary of Uranium Resources Inc., is in the process of completing some preparatory activities and he expects the agency to issue a letter to HRI in the near future, authorizing them to proceed.

The Westwater aquifer, a major source of drinking water for Crownpoint, “is fairly good water,” which the community has relied on for a long time, Udall said. “If the requirements of the permit were fulfilled, could the NRC and the EPA guarantee a safe and a consistent water source for the Crownpoint community?”

Weber said a “unique” provision of the NRC license is it requires HRI to provide an alternate water source for the local community before the company begins mining. “Typically, the in-situ recovery facilities are located at some distance from communities and so that doesn’t present itself, but in this situation, because of the unique circumstances involving HRI-Crownpoint, that was a provision in the licensing of the facility,” he said.

HRI must replace two Navajo Tribal Utility Authority water supply wells and three Bureau of Indian Affairs wells. In addition, the company must construct the necessary water pipeline and provide funds so the existing water supply systems of NTUA and BIA can be connected to the new wells.

“I would point out that in the history of in-situ recovery regulation, we have not seen a situation where a local supply well has been adversely impacted by the mining,” Weber said. However, he added, there have been “excursions.”

“An excursion is where an elevated level has been detected in either a monitoring well laterally, distant from the minefield, or above or below the aquifer that’s being mined,” he said. “If those excursions are detected, the licensee has to take action to correct that situation and at the end of active mining has to restore the aquifer back to suitable water-quality standards.”

Udall said he thought that license condition was “greatly appreciated by the local community.”

Eric Jantz, attorney for Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, which has vigorously opposed HRI’s plans to mine uranium in Crownpoint and Churchrock, said, “I have not heard anyone in Crownpoint express appreciation that License Condition 10.27 was included. All of the people I’ve spoken with are just pissed off that the project was licensed in the first place.”

An interesting problem for HRI, he said, is that in 1991, HRI applied to New Mexico Environment Department for an aquifer designation for its Crownpoint site, which the state granted. However, EPA, exercising its supervisory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, overruled NMED.

“In rejecting HRI’s aquifer designation application, EPA said that the Westwater aquifer at the Crownpoint site is an underground source of drinking water. I can’t see how – either technically or politically – EPA could backtrack from this position. All this seems to suggest HRI couldn’t mine at the Crownpoint site even if it wanted to,” Jantz said.

“Given that Section 17 and Unit 1 are Indian Country and subject to the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act, that only leaves HRI with Section 8.” The 2005 act prohibited uranium mining and processing in Navajo Indian Country.

Chris Shuey of Southwest Research Information Center said NTUA’s management board adopted a resolution in December 1997 asserting that it would not allow replacement of its two municipal wells in Crownpoint.

“In March 2005, Dr. John Leeper with the Navajo Water Resources Department gave an expert declaration in which he concluded that the Westwater aquifer would continue to be a major source of water supply for the Eastern Agency, even with development of the Navajo-Gallup project water line, and that the Navajo-Gallup project was never intended to replace the use or reliance on groundwater for municipal and agricultural supply in the Eastern Agency,” Shuey said.

NRC’s condition that HRI provide an alternate water supply was not opposed, Shuey said, “since it was an acknowledgment by even NRC that, despite HRI’s assurances to the contrary, ISL mining could not be done at the Crownpoint wellfield without impacting at least NTUA-1 and possibly impacting NTUA -2.”

NRC called the location of proposed ISL mining within a half mile of a currently operating municipal water supply well “unprecedented” in the history of ISL mining, Shuey said.

In the 1997 resolution, which was adopted unanimously, NTUA said the NRC proposal did not address future operation and maintenance expenses the utility may incur due to calcification of its water distribution system, nor future water quality and quantity concerns in connection with the relocated water supply wells and restoration of groundwater after mining.

“The Management Board directs NTUA management to inform HRI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it will not agree to plug and abandon its Crownpoint wells.”

10/8/2011 Gallup Independent: Udall urges continued cleanup of area's legacy uranium sites

10/8/2011 Udall urges continued cleanup of area’s legacy uranium sites By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., received commitments Thursday from three federal agencies that they will continue to work together to clean up uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations. The testimony was presented during a federal oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children’s Health and Environmental Responsibility, which Udall chairs. The senator stressed that each agency continue ongoing cleanup projects and commit to providing necessary funding for the Five-Year Plan for the Navajo Nation begun in 2007 and a Five-Year Plan begun last year for the Grants Mining District.

“Recently, the Navajo Nation informed EPA that they intend to request a second five-year review plan,” James Woolford, director of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, said. “The agency plans to work with the Navajo Nation and our colleagues to put together that plan over the next year.” EPA is the lead federal agency for the cleanup plan.

EPA has been obligating about $12 million per year for Navajo cleanup efforts. However, the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution so EPA cannot commit to a particular figure for the upcoming year, he said.

David Geiser, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management, said DOE contributes about $4 million for the four legacy uranium mill sites it monitors on Navajo. In 2009, DOE received a $5 million special appropriation for cleanup of the Highway 160 site outside of Tuba City. That work was completed in August, he said.

Udall applauded EPA for its recent announcement of an approved plan to clean up the Northeast Churchrock Mine, the highest-priority abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation, and also raised concerns about Tuba City contamination.

“Since 1995 there have been more than 35 studies conducted on the Tuba City Open Dump,” Udall said. He asked whether they knew the source of contamination or whether there was a cleanup plan.

Woolford said the Hopi Tribe submitted a study to EPA in August which concluded there was groundwater contamination adjacent to the dump. “We’re currently reviewing it and we have plans to meet with the tribe at the end of October to go over the study.”

He said EPA has an enforceable agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct a comprehensive investigation and feasibility study to ascertain whether the dump is contaminating the groundwater. “The groundwater is contaminated. Everyone knows that. We are not 100 percent sure of the source,” he said.

“Does the Tuba City Open Dump site pose a threat to drinking water for the Navajo Nation or the Hopi Tribe?” Udall asked.

“Yes, we believe it does,” Woolford said, however a cleanup remedy is contingent on the outcome of the BIA study.

Geiser said both Navajo and Hopi believe mill tailing material was disposed of in the open dump and that it is the source of the uranium contamination, but he said there is no evidence to support that claim. “There have been over 200 borings taken of the open dump, and none of them found mill material,” he said.

DOE also doesn’t believe there is a hydrological connection between the Tuba City uranium mill tailings disposal cell and the Moenkopi village wells, Geiser said.

Udall asked for further details on the Northeast Churchrock cleanup and a potential time-line. Woolford said they ultimately chose “a pretty simple remedy,” which is to move more than 870,000 cubic yards of contaminated waste rock and more than 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil “almost across the street” to the United Nuclear Corp./General Electric Superfund site.

Beginning this fall, community members will be offered relocation opportunities, according to Woolford. Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9 said Monday that residents could take a temporary move-out of their house during the cleanup, “but that would be in a hotel for potentially years,” or they could take advantage of an EPA “cash-out” offer for a permanent residence of comparable value.

Geiser said EPA approached DOE about two years ago with the idea of combining mine waste with the mill waste. “For the last 10 to 12 years, the department has agreed to accept non-mill waste in the disposal cells under certain conditions,” he said. Northeast Churchrock would be the “single largest volume” of that type material to be put in a disposal cell.

NRC’s Weber said they will prepare an environmental assessment to support a revision to the reclamation plan for UNC’s tailings impoundment and there will be opportunity for public comment on the UNC license amendment. Barring any legal challenges or glitches, cleanup could be done by 2018 or 2019 with DOE’s Legacy Management as the ultimate overseer.

10/4/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set

10/4/2011 Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: CHURCHROCK – After more than two years of debate and a dozen public meetings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen to move approximately 1.4 million tons of radioactive soil from Northeast Churchrock Mine to a lined disposal cell on top of an unlined cell at a nearby Superfund site. EPA evaluated 14 disposal sites before choosing the same “preferred alternative” cleanup plan announced in May 2009. By disposing of the radium- and uranium-contaminated waste at the nearby United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill now owned by General Electric, the entities averted the lengthy process of siting and licensing a new disposal facility, which can take decades.

“They’ve just been playing around with us, and just to butter us up they’ve been having those stakeholder meetings, that’s what I found out,” Teddy Nez, president of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, said Monday.

Cleanup could be accomplished in 2018 at a cost of $44.3 million, compared to the $293.6 million it would take to transport the waste to a licensed disposal facility. By moving the contaminated soils next door to Churchrock Chapter on private land owned by UNC/GE, it also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s requirement that the waste be transported off tribal lands.

“All they’re going to do, the way I understand it, is scrape the cap off, put it to the side, line it, and then put the other stuff on top. It’s basically going to be a new mountain,” Nez said.

EPA Region 9 found there was not enough room at the mill site to construct a new cell for the mine waste, as previously discussed, without impacting ongoing groundwater remediation efforts by Region 6. The major factor influencing the ultimate height of the cells is whether the waste is placed on all three existing cells, or is limited to one or two cells. EPA estimates the cells could grow by up to 10 feet in height but would be designed to blend into the landscape.

“Our position is move the stuff over there but dig out the contaminated trash, go to the bottom, then line it, put the old waste back in there and then put the other waste on top – both wastes, UNC and Kerr-McGee,” Nez said. In addition to Northeast Churchrock, EPA also is addressing two sites at the adjacent Quivira Mine formerly owned by Kerr-McGee.

Both U.S. EPA and Navajo EPA representatives held informal community meetings with Red Water Pond Road residents in April and May to explain the work going on in relationship to the two mines. They also held an informal meeting with residents a week prior to Thursday’s announcement. Nez said they were told not to invite the media.

Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9 said they just wanted to meet with the Red Water Pond Road residents. “That was the first time we were telling anybody how we were going to clean it up, so we did intend to have it just them and not to be a big public meeting,” he said.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of Navajo EPA, said every time U.S. EPA came out to meet with residents, they also were there. “We’ve heard the concerns from the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, we’ve had our own meetings with EPA directly, and we were able to brief the president at least three different occasions.” he said.

Residents were reassured they would have an opportunity to provide input during the three-year design phase. Nez said EPA will pay for the community association to hire Southwest Research Information Center as its technical consultant to aid the community in its understanding of the project as it develops and facilitate local input into the design process.

Transportation of “principal threat waste,” or the most highly contaminated soils, to an off-site disposal facility is another factor in the cleanup, Etsitty said.

“That volume of soil is yet to be determined. If it looks like the soils might be reprocessed and there is some economic gain possible, they’ll be taken to a reprocessing facility. I believe that’s in Utah,” he said. If it’s not possible, the soils will be transported 650 miles to the U.S. Ecology facility in Grand View, Idaho.

GE has offered to provide one scholarship per year for a Navajo student to attend either the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University, according to Nez, as well as improve Pipeline Canyon Road near the mine and mill sites, and provide building materials for four ceremonial hogans as requested by community residents. GE also will exercise Navajo hiring preference.

“Those are things that GE conveyed to EPA in a letter and that letter will be made part of the administrative record, but those things cannot be put into the administrative order of consent as enforceable items,” Etsitty said. “So we’re going to have to find a way to make sure that those promises are binding somehow.”

The UNC Mill, or final burial ground for the mine wastes, ceased operations in 1982 and was listed on U.S. EPA Superfund’s National Priorities List in 1983. EPA Region 6 has been actively trying to clean up contaminated groundwater at the site, but the plume has been steadily migrating closer to Navajo Nation boundaries.

Etsitty said they are concerned about groundwater contamination. “We want to know if there’s going to be any potential groundwater impacts underneath the mine site as well as what we know already about the mill site.”

Churchrock residents Scotty Begay and Larry King brought up concerns during public meetings about adding extra weight on top of the existing cell. Tenley said they received documents from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then did an evaluation of the compressibility of the material as to whether there would be any impact on the cell or to the groundwater.

“There is groundwater contamination north of the cells. The question is, is there water still in the cells that would be squished out from putting additional waste on it,” he said. “We determined that the material could be safely placed there without affecting the stability or the groundwater.”

Disposal of the waste is contingent on UNC receiving a license amendment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and approval by EPA Region 6.

Tenley said Region 9’s next step will be to meet with residents who were temporarily relocated during the last cleanup to discuss lodging arrangements for the next phase. They have one of two options.

“One is they could take a temporary move-out of their house during the cleanup, but that would be in a hotel for potentially years, and that’s not a very attractive alternative,” he said. The other option allows EPA to offer a “cash-out” for a permanent residence in the area that would be of comparable value in lieu of staying in a hotel, he said.

Prior to the big move, an emergency removal action will be conducted next summer near the home of Grace Cowboy, east of Red Water Pond Road, where a significant amount of contamination was found as a result of mine site runoff. An estimated 30,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste material will be removed and stockpiled at the mine site along with other waste removed during the previous interim cleanup. Estimated cleanup cost is $2 million.

Northeast Churchrock Mine operated from around 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot deep shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds. GE has conduced two previous cleanups, one during 2010 in which more than 40,000 tons of contaminated soils were moved and stockpiled at the mine site to await final cleanup.

8/12/2011 EPA allows Chevron access to sensitive data on Navajo Nation – Chevron gains access to sensitive data on Navajo soil and water

8/12/2011 CENSORED NEWS: EPA allows Chevron access to sensitive data on Navajo Nation – Chevron gains access to sensitive data on Navajo soil and water: By Brenda Norrell: MARIANO LAKE, N.M. — The US EPA is allowing Chevron USA Inc., access to sensitive data on the Navajo Nation, by allowing Chevron to investigate uranium contamination. Chevron is one of the world’s primary exploiters and spoilers of Indigenous lands. Navajo President Ben Shelly, however, said allowing Chevron to carry out the investigation on the Navajo Nation is a good thing. President Shelly said, “On behalf of the communities in and around Mariano Lake, I extend my sincere appreciation for the agreement today between the U.S. EPA and Chevron. I look forward to the data that will be generated in this investigation, and I respectfully request U.S. EPA to understand our desires for the most protective clean up plans that will help restore harmony in our communities and homes.”

While the EPA purports to be cleaning up uranium contamination, at the same time, corporations are targeting the Navajo Nation for more uranium mining. By giving Chevron access to geological data, soil and water data, the Navajo Nation is giving away sensitive information used by corporations for future destructive industries, including mining and oil and gas drilling.

Corporations such as Chevron have a long history of gaining access to Indian lands under the guise of cleanup or research.

The US EPA selected Chevron to investigate radium-contaminated soil at the Mariano Lake Mine site, a former uranium mine located on the Navajo Nation near Gallup, N.M. The EPA said in a statement that the agreement is the result of an effort by the EPA and Navajo Nation to address contamination of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation.

The EPA was persuaded by Chevron’s offer of dollars.

Under the agreement, Chevron will conduct a radiological survey and sample radium-contaminated soil throughout the 31-acre Mariano Lake Mine site and surrounding area, including 10 residences and two nearby water wells. Chevron also agreed to pay EPA’s oversight costs, the EPA said in a statement.

Chevron’s fencing also concerns local Navajos.

EPA and the Navajo EPA will oversee field work, which will include construction of a fence and application of a sealant to contaminated soils where people live, work and play while the investigation is carried out. The order also requires Chevron to post signs, lock gates and prevent livestock from getting into areas of known contamination prior to cleanup, the EPA said.

The Mariano Lake Mine site operated as a uranium ore mine from approximately 1977 to 1982, and includes one 500-foot deep shaft, waste piles, and several surface ponds. Exposure to elevated levels of radium over a long period of time can result in anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, and cancer, especially bone cancer.

The EPA said that Chevron is the fifth “responsible party” that the EPA has required to take actions at former uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

Indigenous Peoples, however, have plenty of proof that Chevron is not a responsible party.

The EPA said the work with Navajo Nation is to identify and enforce against responsible parties is part of a 5-year plan to address the problem, which can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/

Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation

US EPA Pacific Southwest, Region 9 Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations: Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: The lands of the Navajo Nation include 27,000 square miles spread over three states in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of these lands makes them rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.

Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.

EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation and, since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response. In August 2007, the Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas with the most complete assessment to date of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Working with the Navajo Nation, EPA also used its Superfund authority to clean up four residential yards and one home next to the highest priority abandoned uranium mine, Northeast Church Rock Mine, at a cost of more than $2 million.

At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. EPA regularly reports back to the Committee and to the Navajo Nation on its progress (PDF) (2 pp, 489K) in implementing the Five-Year Plan. (The Progress Report was updated in August 2010 (PDF) (2 pp, 2.9M) .)

The Five-Year Plan is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan outlines a strategy for cleanup and details the cleanup process for the Navajo Nation over the next five years.

EPA is addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation — uranium contaminated water sources and structures. Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of consuming contaminated water.

EPA will also continue to use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures. EPA has already assessed about 200 structures and yards and targeted at least 27 structures and ten yards for remediation as a precaution.

Over the course of the Five-year Plan, EPA will focus on the problems posed by abandoned uranium mines, completing a tiered assessment of over 500 mines and taking actions to address the highest priority mines. As mines that pose risks are discovered, EPA may use Superfund authorities, including the National Priorities List, enforcement against responsible parties, or emergency response to require cleanup. At the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the highest-risk mine on the Reservation, EPA is requiring the owner to conduct a cleanup that is protective of nearby residents. EPA is working with the community to ensure the remainder of the site is cleaned up.

Although the legacy of uranium mining is widespread and will take many years to address completely, the collaborative effort of EPA, other federal agencies and the Navajo Nation will bring an unprecedented level of support and protection for the people at risk from these sites. Much work remains to be done, and EPA is committed to working with the Navajo Nation to remove the most immediate contamination risks and to find permanent solutions to the remaining contamination on Navajo lands.

Related Information
Superfund Site Overview

Region 9 Tribal Program

Contact Information

Dana Barton
US EPA, SFD 6-3
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 972-3087
Toll Free 1(800) 231-3075
Fax (415) 947-3528

Lillie Lane (hozhoogo_nasha@yahoo.com)
Navajo Nation EPA
P.O. Box 339
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
928-871-6092