Category Archives: Navajo Environmental Protection Agency

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – In 1951, the Navajo Tribal Council sent a proposal to Washington that would permit Navajos to lease their lands to whites and also make it easier for them to obtain prospecting permits. Since exploration began in 1942, the mining business in Monument Valley had contributed $170,000 in royalties to tribal coffers. Uranium ore was raising the standard of living. Across the valley, uranium mines sprang up much like the red sandstone rocks that erupted from the desert floor. Unsuspecting Navajos took to the rocks with picks and shovels, little knowing that the uranium and vanadium gleaned from the yellow outcrops of carnotite would leave permanent scars on the landscape and the people.

At Skyline Mine on Oljato Mesa, 5,794 feet above sea level, a gondola running along a steel cable was used to transport ore from atop the mesa to the “transloading” area below, where it was placed in trucks and hauled to a mill for processing.

“The miners would ride up in the bucket back in the day,” according to Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Emergency Response Section. Now, all that remains of the mine that inspired dreams of sky-high wealth is about 30,000 cubic yards of radium-contaminated soil which EPA is in charge of removing.

During the 1990s, portions of the Skyline Mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, consolidating loose mine waste and capping it with clean fill dirt. But due to the steep terrain, some wastes at the eastern edge of the mesa and at the bottom were not removed.

Skyline is the first abandoned uranium mine U.S. EPA will complete cleanup at under a five-year inter-agency plan to address the Cold War legacy of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. The federal agency is working with Navajo EPA to prioritize and clean up the highest-risk abandoned uranium mines from among 520 sites.

Eugene Esplain, a health physicist with Navajo EPA’s Superfund program, said that between 1995 and 2000 they screened the Skyline Mine site after talking to local resident Elsie Begay – a central figure in the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

Esplain and co-workers walked from the foot of the mesa to the top, assessing the contamination. “A little over a thousand feet we got high readings, so we kept going up the slope and the readings got more elevated the higher we went. This one went as high as 10 times background,” he said.

Esplain suffered a fall and ended up having knee surgery, but they were able to grade the site. “We didn’t do any characterization work up there. We knew that we didn’t have the tools or manpower to do this work. We reported it to our supervisor as such, and that we should ask U.S. EPA to take the lead on this one,” he said.

The $7 million project was initiated by U.S. EPA in August 2009 and on March 28 of this year they mobilized to come out and begin work on the disposal cell on top of the mesa.

About 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed from the arroyo, and approximately 5,000 cubic yards each from the transloading area and the “talus slope,” a pile of radioactive waste rock and ore that either was pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. An estimated 10,000 cubic yards more were removed from the top of the mesa. A gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff, a visual reminder of the years of mining activity.

All contaminated soils on the valley floor have been stockpiled into one huge red pile, which is being whittled away 4 cubic yards at a time using a modern version of the “skyline.” The top cable, or skyline, runs from a piece of heavy equipment on the mesa to another piece of heavy equipment below. A second line, called a haul-back line, pulls the hopper up and down the cliff.

As soon as the bucket has landed, a front-end loader loads it with one straight-up bucketful from the stockpile of soil, then the skyline goes up and transports the hopper to the top, where it drops its load into a truck and then returns to the valley floor, Musante said. The cycle takes about 4-1/2 minutes. When full, the truck deposits the soil into the disposal cell a short distance away.

Air monitors are triangulated around the housing area at the foot of the mesa, where five families reside, with another set of monitors surrounding the work area on the cliff. The contaminated soils are wet and mixed to prevent the dust from blowing around. “Sometimes we also do active dust suppression where we’ve got like a fog of water spraying in the air to knock out the dust particles that are created,” he said.

“We have really good confidence that there’s not an excess exposure being created by our work activities for residents nearby. Based on two months worth of data, families were told they could move back if they wanted. Two families returned and others are expected to begin moving back Tuesday. The nearly six-month project is expected to be done by Labor Day.

On the upper slope at the edge of the mesa, they removed contaminated material 10 to 15 feet deep. “We got about 90 percent of what was there, but with the technique we’re using out here and that bucket, once it hits those large cobbles, it can’t get the small stuff underneath, so there is a little bit of residual material,” he said. “But I think the main point is we were able to remove a significant quantity of the material that was going to continue to fall down over the side.”

Given the dangerous terrain, they have been very fortunate, with only one freak accident. “When we were excavating this upper slope area with the dredge bucket, for what appears to be quality control or a failure in the cable itself, the haul-back cable snapped while the dredge bucket unit was at the very top,” Musante said. “Then the operator-activated brake failed to engage, the safety brake wasn’t enough to stop the unit, and the warning horn didn’t go off.

“It was kind of ‘the system failed as it was designed’ and the dredge bucket traveled all the way down to the anchor, flew off and flew back about 80 feet. The one thing I can say is that while that was a completely random action that no one could have predicted – and it wasn’t for lack of safety procedures – we had an exclusion area so that nobody was standing right behind there when that did happen.” The incident is under investigation.

Mary Helen Begay, Elsie’s daughter-in-law, has been documenting the cleanup in “webisodes,” which she presented last week at the 2011 Tribal Lands and Environment Forum in Green Bay, Wisc. Begay attended the forum along with Jeff Spitz, co-producer of “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

She said that at one of the screenings she met a woman, originally from Cameron, who wanted to share her story. “She remembered drinking out of this well,” which in later years she found out was named after one of the uranium mines. “She lost several family members.”

Begay then told the audience how she lost her dad, several uncles, nieces and brothers-in-law to illnesses related to uranium. “I said right now I have an uncle who is dying from cancer. My uncle is in his last stage. He’s in his hospice stage. The cancer has spread across his lungs. All he’s waiting for is time for him to go. There’s nothing that can be done, so they’re just giving him painkillers.

“Not only that, I said, when you look at the movie again (Navajo Boy), you see a medicine man performing a healing ritual ceremony, the Wind Way. Many of our Navajo people have utilized medicine men out there. A lot have died, but some are still living but don’t have documents of their medical. They have nothing to prove that they have problems with breathing or any type of health issues,” she said, therefore, they can’t get federal compensation for radiation-related illnesses.

And then she shared with them the story about Skyline Mine. “The cleanup that’s being done right now, I thought they were doing a good job,” she said. But recently she was told that areas on the back side of the mine where prior reclamation efforts were done, have elevated readings. Though those areas are outside the scope of EPA’s emergency removal action at Skyline, she questions why they were not included in the cleanup.

“Do we need to fight for more money and say we need the rest of it cleaned up? What do we need to do?”

Four Corners Free Press: Living with the legacy of uranium on the Navajo Nation

Four Corners Free Press: Living with the legacy of uranium on the Navajo Nation By Sonja Horoshko: Box Springs, Ariz., is cut off by the Little Colorado River from access to any paved roads or the conveniences of groceries, gas stations, banks, electricity and power, not to mention jobs and economic development. But the community’s willingness to solve its own problems is gaining it recognition as one of the most pro-active areas on the Navajo Nation. Surrounding the tiny hamlet is the country in the Navajo Nation Western Agency referred to by some as “Cancer Alley” – the heart of leetsoii, the uranium belt stretching through the Navajo Nation to the Four Corners region.

It is a place where unregulated water sources are poisoned with contaminants left behind by the un-remediated abandoned mining operations begun in the mid-1940s to fuel the Atomic Energy Commission and the Cold War.

As if the lack of safe, potable water isn’t problem enough, Box Springs, a community of less than 150, is 30 miles from Leupp, Ariz., the nearest town — a drive that often takes an hour. Harsh winter weather and the crenellated, pitched washboard of the partially graveled road add stress to the difficult, typically wind-whipped trip to haul drinking water twice a week for consumption and hygiene. The necessity is the dominant concern for all families living there.

On a mid-April Friday morning, the Tahonnie family opened their home to another community meeting of their grassroots organization, The Forgotten Navajo People, to hear from the Navajo Department of Water Resources about plans for a waterdelivery schedule beginning that day and to welcome the first 4,000-gallon water truck to the area.

“It is a blessing today, “said Rolanda Tahonnie. “A lot of progress has been made here, so it’s a beautiful day. Two years our water barrel has been completely empty and now it’s full.”

Thirty percent of Navajo families living on the reservation haul drinking water, compared to 1 percent of the U.S. population nationwide. With gas prices exceeding $3.80 per gallon and the expense of wear and tear on the vehicle, the price tag for Navajo consumers is more than 10 times the cost of water for a typical household in Phoenix, one of many Arizona metropolises fed by the water found beneath the reservation and transported through it to cities lying south of the reservation boundaries in Arizona.

The new water truck was bought with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant awarded to Indian Health Services, providing the Navajo Department of Water Resources funding for a three-year Safe Drinking Water Hauling Feasibility Study and Pilot Project.

Its huge shiny white hulk rumbled over the hill into the clearing that served as a casual parking area filled with pick-ups and trailers loaded with empty water containers. Following close behind was another truck hauling a new trailer and two 200-gallon tanks to be used by the residents there to move their personal water from the Tahonnie watering point and storage tank to homes further out in the community. Tó … Tó … Tó … (drip, drip, drip)

“Today is a great day,” said Forgotten People program director Marsha Monestersky. “Box Springs and the Forgotten People have become the heart of the Navajo reservation. It is the beginning.”

The program is a model that can work in all communities tucked into remote locations where water is scarce and roads are rough. “We are working with Department of Water Resources to schedule regular delivery points here in the Western Agency chapters, including Canyon Diablo, Gray Mountain and Cameron and then Coal Mine,” Monestersky said.

“It is a model water-hauling project,” added the director of DWR, Najam Tajiq. But it was a tough crowd gathered in the room: the local people, the real experts at hauling water. They directed their concerns to him about the lasting reliability of the program.

Benson Willie told Tajiq that they will need to strengthen the one bridge crossing a small arroyo on the road. It was not built to withstand repeated trips carrying the weight of a 4,000-gallon water truck and, he said, “The spigot on the Tolani Lake storage tank has been broken for months. We aren’t allowed to fix it, even though it’s a job any high-school student could do. We’ve been told it’s under warranty and it’s NTUA’s responsiblility.” NTUA is the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

Adding to the challenge is the anticipated heavy maintenance and repair of the truck because of the ongoing Navajo Department of Roads maintenance issues.

In their mission statement, the Forgotten Navajo People write that they are dedicated to the rebuilding of the communities using a participatory methodology that strives to empower the local communities and ensures that they own and control their sustainable development agendas.

At the meeting, Don Yellowman, president of the group, explained progress at the two additional test-well projects upstream on the Little Colorado at Black Falls Crossing and near Leupp. If the water found there is potable and palatable, it will be piped through 12.4 miles of new waterline extensions to 155 homes in the area of concern.

Someday the water will be here, he told the group. “Nine homes now have bathroom additions and fixtures plumbed and ready for the water when it comes, and they were built by sharing each other’s labors, organizing the people’s teamwork in a traditional Diné way with Black Falls Project Manager Ronald Tahonnie.”

Blue gold

By 2007, the United Nations had announced two human-rights-to-water declarations. The first, issued in 2002, said, “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses.” It requires governments to adopt national strategies and plans of action which will allow them to “move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realization of the right to water.”

But in 2007 the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expanded the statement to include in the definition, “the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses. . .” ensuring a sufficient amount of water that is “good quality, is affordable for all and can be collected within a reasonable distance from a person’s home.”

The description fit the needs of Navajo people throughout the reservation. FNP began to work on a submission to the U.N. that would eventually lead to a 2010 historic declaration and help from its own central government in Window Rock, and a Navajo Commission on Emergency Management “Declaration of Public Health State of Emergency” for Black Falls/Box Springs/ Grand Falls.

Contamination in the water sources is attributable to uranium-mining and other natural-resources mining practices that began in the mid-1940s. Monestersky said, “The people here have been drinking contaminated water from unregulated livestock sources and springs for more than 40 years. This was our opportunity to address the issue on a global scale, to declare a humanrights emergency.” The case they submitted contained comments from interviews of Diné people denied access to water due to uranium contamination throughout the Navajo Nation, including their neighborhoods in Grey Mountain, Tuba City, Moenkopi and the New Lands.

Currently, the Diné are threatened by new uranium mining just outside their borders, despite a ban on such mining within the Navajo Nation, issued in 2005 by former president Joe Shirley, Jr. Adverse health effects continue, according to the stories in the document prepared by the Forgotten Navajo People, as a result of more than 1,100 un-reclaimed uranium sites throughout the Navajo Nation. The document includes graphic testament to conditions inflicted on the people living around Peabody Coal Company mining operations who are denied access to safe drinking water due to destruction, degradation and diminution of their water sources.

The report also includes a statement alleging that, “The Diné live on lands the U.S. Department of Energy calls a ‘National Sacrifice Area’.”

Response to the submission strengthened relationships with partners already work- ing on the cataclysmic environmental and health disaster. The U.S. EPA Superfund, Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Energy, Navajo Nation EPA, Navajo Abandoned Mines, DWR, and others, working on remediation and attribution of responsibility, have activated programs addressing the issues since the mid-1990s.

In 2006, Judy Pasternack, journalist and author of “Yellow Dirt,” began publishing excerpts from her work-in-progress in the Los Angeles Times.

The series painted a stark picture of national disgrace and neglect and the continuing presence of radioactive contamination in the Navajos’ “drinking supplies, in their walls and floors, playgrounds, bread ovens, in their churches, and even in their garbage dumps. And they are still dying.”

Hope fueled the work of the grassroots organizations. The Forgotten Navajo People began to feel remembered. They knew best what was needed in their own community and assumed the role of experts working toward solutions.

Ticking meters

But while the picture may have improved for Box Springs, at least in regard to drinking water, the dark legacy of uraniummining hangs over the Navajo Nation like a specter.

A month after the water-hauling meeting, the U.S. EPA announced a Superfund meeting in Tuba City on the Abandoned Uranium Mines project in the Western Agency. Nearly 200 people representing all the communities in the Western Agency crowded the conference room on May 14 with members of several Navajo grassroots environmental-justice and natural-resources organizations, including the Forgotten Navajo People.

Svetlana Zenkin, site assessment manager with EPA Region 9’s Superfund Division, explained the mine screening that provided for the initial evaluation of 520 sites found by 2000. During the first four years of a five-year plan of action, 383 of the sites throughout the reservation have been screened in an initial evaluation.

Sites under investigation in the Western Agency chapters include mines, transfer stations, homes and outbuilding structures, hogans, schools, water sources, tailing piles, landfills, barrow ditches, access roads and the Rare Metals mill site east of Tuba City. All 126 were identified in the original study found in the Abandoned Mines 2000 Atlas. The initial investigation of these was to be completed by the end of May, yielding a prioritized list identifying sites requiring additional investigation.

“Our main goal was to gauge the level of interest in the region, educate the people about our progress and to locate what sites people come into contact with that we didn’t know about,” said Zenkin.

The biggest surprise of the meeting was the contamination level discovered for a site east of the Cameron Chapter House on the west side of the Little Colorado River, not far from Box Springs.

According to Alex Grubbs, a representative of Weston Solutions, the Superfund contract environmental consultants for the project, “The meter maxed out three times … at a million,” which is an actual reading of 1,000 radiation counts per minute— a relative measure of radiation to the surrounding background area. Background radiation is typically between 5 and 60 cpm, rarely exceeding 100 cpm.

Although people in the community believe the site may have been a transfer station for ore, Zenkins said, “We hesitate to label the site until we have finished the intensive study required of such a screen. It has definitely moved to the top of the priority list.”

“Superfund” is a retroactive liability law, not a monetary fund. It has the authority to identify and locate hazardous sites and require the responsible party to fund the clean-up — even if it is a government entity such as the Department of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (former Atomic Energy Commission).

Contaminated water is the highest-priority threat because it is the most direct internal contaminant. Today, the subject of safe, clean water is also a hotly contested issue in the Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement.

In a special session in November 2010, the 21st Navajo Nation Council voted 51-24 to pass legislation supporting the settlement.

Ron Millford, a concerned Navajo citizen and opponent of the settlement, asked Superfund project manager Debbie Schechter for a clarification of authority. “Does the EPA Superfund have authority over waivers contained in the settlement?” According to Millford, “The waiver releases all claims against the state or corporations — including Arizona Power Service and Peabody Coal, that may pollute the environment,” including violations of the Clean Water Act.

Because the Superfund can go after any responsible party, it seems logical that it would have authority over such a waiver.

Schechter told Millford, “It is a question that we will ask the EPA lawyers, and get an answer for you on this.” At the time of this writing, Millford had not heard a response from the lawyers.

Green dust

Afternoon breakout groups at the May 14 meeting gave citizens an opportunity to tell their stories directly to the Superfund project managers. Of great concern was potential future contamination from possible Grand Canyon uranium-mining.

A single-parenting father of two young boys said, “I teach my sons to clean up after themselves, to be responsible. What will they think when they learn about the mining residue left behind by the corporations at these natural-resources operations?”

He added that the dust is everywhere and he’s concerned for his children who may play in contaminated soil picked up and blowing in the wind. Another young man called its presence in the windstorms, “unavoidable green dust,” and another woman added that children continue risk exposure when they put it in their mouths. “It tastes like rock candy,” she said.

Sarana Riggs, a young woman living in Tuba City, said she is very concerned about “the potential 50 trucks a day transporting uranium ore from the Grand Canyon through Cameron and Tuba City, Monument Valley and the Utah strip of Navajo Nation to the mill in Blanding, Utah.”

“What is the level of our awareness?” she asked. “What education can we be doing for our communities to prevent a repeat of this contamination and its aftereffects?”

Those answers remain unclear.

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/

7/30/2011 Forgotten People's Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan

7/30/2011 Forgotten People’s Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan Via Email transmission to michelle@navajonationmuseum.org: Michelle Henry, Division of Natural Resources, The Navajo Nation Window Rock, Navajo Nation (Arizona) 86515: Re: Comments on the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (FOR THE OFFICIAL RECORD):Forgotten People is a nonprofit grassroots organization active within the Navajo Nation. We represent communities that span over 2 million acres of remote desert terrain in the northeastern part of Arizona. Most of the members practice a subsistence lifestyle of herding sheep. Many elderly community members speak only Dinè (the preferred nomenclature of the Navajo people). Forgotten People is herewith submitting these Comments for the official record regarding the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation:

Forgotten People is concerned that the energy policy focuses on the continued use of coal and coal-fired power plants and leaves the door open for renewed uranium mining when the Navajo Nation can become a leader in the forefront of alternative energy.

Forgotten People supports James W. Zion, Esq. and the application of the Fundamental Laws upheld by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that the land, property, resources and income generated from them are the property of the Navajo People. Forgotten People is concerned about a lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility by the central government through the use of “so called discretionary funds”, fails to provide an accounting of Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies and approves a lease re-opener for Peabody Coal Company’s Black Mesa mine when the Black Mesa mine does not have an operating permit.

Forgotten People supports the idea of civil society as an emerging concept in Indian country and supports the Right to Development, Navajo Nation adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the UN Declaration on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. (See Forgotten People’s submission: “Stakeholder’s views for the Study on Human Rights Obligations related to Equitable Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation the Right to Water” posted on the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights website dated 4/15/2007.)

A 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze and forced relocation of 12,000 Dinè at a cost to US taxpayers of 500 million dollars was perpetrated upon our people so Peabody Western Coal Company could mine coal and power Navajo Generating Station. A legacy due to the export of coal and uranium mining is responsible for the observed adverse impacts of those mining activities on air quality, water quality, animal and human health, sacred sites, burial sites and cultural and historic sites.

Our communities face serious development issues. These issues have been compounded by the 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze. The Freeze was imposed in 1966 and is largely responsible for inadequate housing, lack of basic infrastructure such as paved roads, and pervasive poverty in the region. Only 3 % of families have electricity. Over 90% of the homes do not have access to piped water, requiring families to haul their water from other locations. EPA estimates 54,000 residents of the Navajo Nation lack access to a public water system. Only 24 % of homes are habitable today.

Since 1966, the population has increased by approximately 65 percent in the former Bennett Freeze area, forcing several generations of families to live together in dwellings that have been declared unfit for human habitation. The result of which has been a large number of deaths from exposure to the harsh climate.

The Bennett Freeze is responsible for intergenerational trauma affecting people mentally, physically and psychologically. Medical studies confirm that overcrowding in addition to the absence of running water, refrigeration, and adequate sewage disposal adversely impact the mental and physical health of Dinè residing in the former Bennett Freeze. These impacts range from youth suicide and mental illness; and an array of medical aliments including but not limited to kidney failure and cancer.

On May 6, 2009, President Obama signed legislation HR 956 and S531 to repeal the portion of Public Law 93-531 (The Relocation Act) to end the Freeze. Unfortunately, this did not address the extensive impact this law had on the Dinè people. While the Freeze has halted essential construction, including power line extensions, waterline extensions, and improvements to roads and community facilities, no rehabilitation program was developed to address the effects of the Freeze.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is involved in a major effort to improve access to safe water on the Navajo Nation and redress problems resulting from the legacy of uranium mining in the 1950s and 60’s as a result of two pressures. The first was a commitment made by the EPA at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which the US pledged to reduce the number of its citizens lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 50% by 2015. The second is the largest concentration of people without piped water and sanitation is on the Navajo Nation, especially in the communities served by Forgotten People.

A legacy of uranium mining has contaminated Navajo land and water resources. Close to a hundred percent of the demand for uranium stemmed out of the U.S. government’s pursuit for nuclear weaponry during the Cold War. From 1944 to 1986 across the Navajo Nation, mine operators extracted nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore which brought the ore to the surface.

The Navajo Nation reports the presence of over 1300 abandoned unreclaimed mines and the leeching of uranium from the slag piles into drinking water supplies was damaging water supplies. Up to 25% of the unregulated sources in the western Navajo reservation exceed drinking water standard for kidney toxicants including uranium.

Uranium in the drinking water causes multiple health impacts like bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water. Before the cause was known, doctors in the region thought they had discovered a genetic disease caused “Navajo Neuropathy”, which was associated with muscular degeneration, ulcers, vision weakness, and other severe health issues. Cancer rates among Dinè teenagers living near mine tailings are 17 times the national average. Reproductive-organ cancers in teenage Dinè girls average seventeen times higher than the average of girls in the U.S.

The Navajo miners were regularly exposed to radioactive conditions that were sometimes in excess of 750 times the generally accepted radon limits, which led to many instances of cancer, death, and other diseases. “Concentrated uranium was being blown all over the land surrounding the mills” for up to “a radius of a half a mile or so” which led to further contamination. Even after uranium mining ceased there were still radioactive problems that persisted through the mill tailings (the leftovers from the conversion process).

Forgotten People believes reaching our goals will require collaboration with the help of the Navajo central government and a human rights centered approach to development.

Forgotten People believes that in order to accomplish our goals we will need tangible improvements for our communities that would be greatly enhanced with the help of the central government.

Wars of the future will be fought over water, as they are over oil today, as our ‘Blue Gold’, the source of human survival, enters the global marketplace. While here on the Navajo Nation the most precious of all resources, our water rights, are being waived and minimized, endangering the survival of our citizens and future generations as a separate indigenous People.

In the last days of the prior administration, the Navajo Nation signed a Water Rights Settlement against the wishes of the people. Forgotten People believes the Settlement is a tragedy not only due to the minimizing of Dinè rights but the waiver of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential compensation for rights waived and a waiver for injury to water as we have seen in the Black Falls region where sources are still contaminated with arsenic and uranium, and where a US EPA Superfund contractor found, on November 9, 2010, that an un-remediated abandoned mill located yards away from a Wetland by the Little Col. River, in a flood zone, maxed out his Geiger counter at over 1 million counts a minute. This mill is in close proximity to an un-remediated abandoned uranium pit with high walls and tailings piles.

The corporate favoritism at Dinè people’s expense is throwing away money when Dinè s have to haul water by small barrels, drink contaminated water or have no access to water. The Dinè people do not get power from the NGS. It goes to Phoenix and Tucson and other cities. There is a fundamental unfairness and lack of information on the Navajo Nation. The issues addressed by Forgotten People’s highlight the need for strengthening and implementing cross-cutting principles in international human rights law. This is needed by the Navajo Nation in considering a draft Energy policy.

As members of a civil society, Forgotten People affirms the right to development and transparency. Public health is threatened by un-remediated abandoned uranium mines, coal mines, renewed uranium mining adjacent to our borders in the wetlands of the Grand Canyon, the ‘crown jewel’ of the national park system and the proposed transport of uranium through Dinè lands with no disaster response plan and the Navajo Nation remains silent.

Forgotten People urges the Navajo Nation to work with Forgotten People, Forgotten People’s attorney and grassroots organizations to develop an energy policy that will benefit the People, the environment and our future generations.

Respectfully submitted,
Caroline Tohannie
On behalf of forgotten People

Attachments:
• 7/29/2011 Comments on the DRAFT Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (James W. Zion, Esq.)
• 7/19/2011 Forgotten People White Paper recommending a uranium transport ban amendment to the Dine’ Mining and Milling Ban
• 3/15/2011 Uranium Transport Analysis (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• Map of the Proposed uranium transport route through the Navajo Nation (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• LINK to Interactive Mapping (Arc-based) project (work-in-progress): http://myweb.students.wwu.edu/~sabier/ForgottenPeople (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• 3/16/2011 DRAFT Energy Policy for the Navajo Nation (Jarrett Wheeler, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)

6/28/2011 Navajo Boy moves Congress and Mountains

Dear Forgotten Navajo People, Check out our latest Navajo video dispatch from Monument Valley. It shows the US EPA’s cleanup in full swing. Groundswell correspondent Mary Begay follows US EPA project manager Jason Musante behind the scenes. “”This example and this project show that someone in Congress learned of the problem here and said go do that,” Musante says. “Now what’s been a really good way to bring that message forward is the documentary Navajo Boy.” Groundswell continues to publicize the story through: Webisodes, shot on flip cameras by Navajo participants and edited by Groundswell — view the whole series at navajoboy.com/webisodes. Generating media coverage for the issue (see headlines below) And creating opportunities to screen the film and for Navajos to tell their story. “>

In August, Mary Begay, who shot this webisode, and Jeff Spitz, producer of The Return of Navajo Boy will keynote The Tribal Lands Forum, a national conference for tribal environmental professionals. Their keynote will focus on cross-cultural media, advocacy and environmental justice. Check our website for a listing of other presentations or to book a screening of your own.

— Jeff & Jennifer
Groundswell Co-Founders

Read recent articles:

Revised map of the proposed uranium transport routes through the Navajo Nation

Please check out the revised map of the proposed uranium transport routes through the Navajo Nation to the White Mesa mill in Blanding, UT.

5/30/2011 Indigenous, Community & Spiritual Leaders Affirm Commitment to Protect Holy San Francisco Peaks: Navajo Nation President 'We've Got to Stop the Construction'

Indigenous, Community & Spiritual Leaders Affirm Commitment to Protect Holy San Francisco Peaks: Navajo Nation President ‘We’ve Got to Stop the Construction’:FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE *High resolution pictures available at www.indigenousaction.org Date: Mon, May 30, 2011 at 1:48 AM FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Local environmental justice organizations, Tribal representatives, and members of Flagstaff community held a media conference on Saturday, May 28 to address threats of Arizona Snowbowl’s ski expansion development and current construction of wastewater pipeline for snowmaking. On Tuesday May 25th, Snowbowl began construction of a wastewater pipeline on the holy San Francisco Peaks, located in Northern Arizona.

Standing at the base of the Holy San Francisco Peaks, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly stated, “We’ve got to stop the construction.” President Shelly affirmed his commitment to protecting the Peaks and urged for greater protection of all sacred sites, “We need to make a law… we need larger organizations to protect these mountains.”

Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES stated, “We’re going to protect our mountain, we’re not going to allow snowmaking to happen.”

Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition and other plaintiffs stated, “Native American’s don’t have first amendment rights when it comes to federal land use decisions. For our federal government to be involved in the desecration of a sacred and holy site that is so important to so many people, for the economic benefit of so few is a tragedy. All people of conscience should be involved in this process, should be fighting this process and should step up and say wait a minute this isn’t right.”

“Snowbowl is proceeding at their own risk, when we prevail in court they’re going to have to take the pipes out of the ground.
The federal government is doing everything it can to make sure snowbowl has a consistent ski season even though they’re attempting to use reclaimed sewer water, which scientifically is not proven safe.” Shanker said.

The wastewater, which would be purchased through contract from the City of Flagstaff, has been proven by biologists to contain harmful contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and hormones. In their Environmental Impact Statement the Forest Service did not consider the impact of ingesting waste water in the form of artificial snow or from the storage pond by humans and animals.

This point is the basis of the Save the Peaks Coalition’s current lawsuit which is currently appealing a District Court decision in favor of Snowbowl’s proposed actions.

Thomas Walker, former Navajo Nation Tribal Council Delegate stated, “The Navajo Nation has historically been opposed to any kind of development on the San Francisco Peaks… this mountain is not to be desecrated.”

Steve Darden of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and former Flagstaff City Council member sent a message to the youth, “In our Hogans and sweat lodges we are offering our prayers, were relying on you young ones to step up.”

Jihan Gearon of the Indigenous Environmental Network connected her organization’s work to stop the Tar Sands in Canada to Snowbowl’s wasetwater pipeline, “The Tar Sands are the largest industrial project ever in the entire world… pipelines break and pipelines spill, I can pretty much guarantee that they are never safe. Not only us, but everyone if Flagstaff needs to be made aware of. The construction happening on the mountain now is a wake-up call.”

Clayson Benally, a member of the Save the Peaks Coalition and plaintiff in the current suit against the Forest Service stated, “Our youth and our children will potentially be impacted by this snow. This is all for the profit of one business thats outside of city limits that doesn’t pay into the tax base of Flagstaff. They put economic profit over our health, over our own community’s health and well being, that goes too far.”

“This is a pre-emptive strike from Snowbowl… when we win in court what are they going to do?” stated Benally.

Earlier in the day 40 people, including Winifred Bessie Jumbo the current Miss Navajo, gathered in prayer on the San Francisco Peaks. Before and during the prayers, more than a half-dozen armed law enforcement agents from Coconino County Sheriffs and the Forest Service monitored the gathering and patrolled the area.

For more than a dozen years Indigenous Nations, environmental activists, and concerned community members have worked together to protect the holy site and surrounding area from further ecological destruction, public health threats, and spiritual desecration.

Arizona Snowbowl’s development plans include clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat that is home to threatened species, making new runs and lifts, adding more parking lots and building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres.

The Peaks are central to the ways of life of more than 13 Indigenous Nations.

###


Klee Benally
indigenousaction@gmail.com | www.twitter.com/eelk

www.indigenousaction.org – Independent Indigenous Media

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the 'skyline'

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the ‘skyline’ By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau:: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Cleanup of radioactive waste piles at the 1940s-era Skyline Mine, an abandoned uranium mine high atop Oljato Mesa near Gouldings in Monument Valley, is proof that a small group of committed citizens crying out for environmental justice can make a difference. Without community residents coming forward and making their voices heard through the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy,” by Chicago director Jeff Spitz and Bernie Klain, it is highly likely that the exposed radioactive waste piles would continue to pose a hazard for years to come.

“The more people speak up, the more people make their voices heard, the more responsible government becomes – and that starts here at the local level,” Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, said during a recent tour. The documentary has been good in bringing their message forward, he said.

Local resident Elsie Begay has been trying for years to get the mine cleaned up and a steel cable removed from her back yard. In 2001, EPA’s Emergency Response Section demolished one hogan constructed of radioactive stone. Begay and her family lived three years in the hogan. She later lost two sons to radiation-related illnesses. Her story is told in “Navajo Boy.”

Cleanup of the mine itself is a challenge. Oljato Mesa climbs to 5,794 feet above sea level. During the late 1990s, portions of the mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, sealing the entrance to the mine, and consolidating and capping easily accessible radioactive waste.

But due to the steep terrain, a waste pile lying about 700 feet below the former mine and several hundred feet above the valley floor on the eastern edge of the mesa was not addressed. A “talus pile” of loose material near the base of Oljato Mesa is comprised of radioactive waste rock and ore that was either pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. A visible gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff beneath the waste, denoting years of mining activity and runoff from monsoon rains.

Drainage from the talus pile has carried contaminated materials from the base of the mesa outward toward the road leading to Oljato Chapter. High levels of radiation have been detected.

When the mine was operating, a gondola was used to transport ore from the mine atop the mesa to the “transloading area” below, where it was placed in trucks and transported to a mill for processing. Ironically, that same concept will be used to clean up contamination on the valley floor. “We’re basically re-creating the ‘skyline’ to clean up Skyline Mine,” Musante said.

“The skyline would run up to the mine and back and forth and they would load the trucks out with the ore” at the transloading area near Elsie’s house and other nearby residences, he said. “There’s a few hunks of ore right there that have reasonable high activity counts, but as you move farther out, the activity decreases.”

To remove the waste from the face of the cliff, workers will cut into the hillside and use an excavator with a 75-foot reach to bring the material up, Musante said. “The high-line system, once it’s in, will operate kind of like a drag line to scrape up the face and collect the material.” Initially, EPA was just going to do the areas on the valley floor, but Musante said when he looked at it, he realized that all of the material on the cliff was going to come down eventually, so it was decided that it had to be removed.

“Basically, we have to ‘wipe off the table before we sweep the floor.’ That’s going to be very challenging. That’s also the area where dust control is going to be the hardest. Just the access alone is very, very difficult. The slopes are approximately 60 degrees, which is pretty nuts, and then, of course, the fall to the valley floor would be hundreds and hundreds of feet.

We’re going to have to work very, very carefully, take our time and go slow.” An estimated 5,000 cubic yards of material is on the upper slope. The majority of material to be removed is in the wash area. They plan to pre-wet it to control dust.

Workers first will tackle the top slope. “Since they’re going to knock some of that stuff down, we’re going to wait to move that over to the stockpile until after they’ve worked up above,” Musante said. Then contaminated soils from the drainage area will be removed and stockpiled at the transloading area where the “high-line yarder,” or skyline with a bucket capable of holding 4 yards of material, will be located.

“We’ll load the bucket, and then it will run it up to the top and drop it into a truck, and the truck will take it over to the repository. It will drop it into the repository, and then they’ll just be doing cycling. It’s all about production,” he said. “They basically will be moving 4 yards of contaminated material every six minutes.”

Approximately five home sites are located within 1,800 feet of the site. During the emergency removal action, about 30 residents living within a half mile will have to be relocated temporarily – no easy feat given the Navajo Nation’s shortage of housing, and especially during tourist season. In addition, a quarter-mile buffer zone will be created to ensure that residents living near the high-line yarder are not affected by any dust that might be created. Those residents will need to be housed through July.

Once consolidated, an estimated 40,000 cubic yards of waste will be placed in a newly created “interim” repository, or landfill, on top of Oljato Mesa. The high-line yarder is being used because the road to the actual mine and repository is a one-lane nightmare put in by Navajo AML and recently improved by EPA. The only way to navigate one steep section of the road several hundred feet above the valley floor is by driving in reverse. Transporting the waste by truck would have been far too risky for workers, local residents and tourists.

Scientists from EPA’s Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team and laborers from the Emergency Rapid Removal Services are working together to construct the giant “Tupperware” repository where the contaminated material will be buried. Total cost of the cleanup is just under $6 million.

EPA has purchased 2 million gallons of water from the Navajo Nation at the corporate rate of over $4 per 1,000 gallons to use for the project. The water comes from unused U.S. Geologic Survey study wells. A temporary water supply pipeline of high-density polyethylene and pumps were installed to push water from a 20,000 gallon storage tank at the bottom of the mesa up to three storage tanks near the top. “We can’t haul water up this road, so the water moving system gets it up the elevation to where we can come grab it and then use it up top,” Musante said.

There was a lot of excavation of some very hard rock that had to occur to create the 3:1 compacted slope of the repository, he said. An all-terrain, 5,000 gallon water wagon with a cannon on top that can shoot water over 100 feet is used along with bulldozers to compact the soil hauled from a nearby “borrow area” by 30-ton haul trucks. “We had to hammer, hammer, hammer, with bulldozers ripping and grinding,” Musante said. “There has been some obvious logistic improvements that had to go on just to get this thing prepped.”

An 18-inch layer of fine soil from the borrow area will be placed in the repository, which has been dug out along the natural contours of the cliff. A 60-millimeter-thick, high-density polyethylene liner is then placed on top of the soil, followed by another 18 inches of the same bedding material so that when the contaminated materials are deposited, they won’t puncture the liner. A “bio-barrier” of 2-1/2 inch to 6 inch rock is then put down to prevent burrowing animals from creating an erosional hazard, followed by a soil cap to absorb any gamma radiation that might be emitted. Finally, a lined drainage channel will be installed to channel water away from the sides of the repository.

“You shouldn’t be able to tell any difference in activity measurements from being right on top of the repository or being just a small distance away on the mesa,” Musante said. Once disturbed areas are reseeded, “the cows can go ahead and graze.”

Musante is working with the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program to design an operation and maintenance program, which will involve annual inspections of the cap to ensure it’s not being eroded, and taking radiation measurements to make sure the activity levels are still protective of human health.

EPA’s Emergency Response Section for which Musante works solves imminent problems right away to prevent health threats in the near term. What happens with the Skyline waste in the long term – whether it is left in place in the “interim” repository or eventually dug up and transported outside reservation boundaries – is something the Navajo Nation will have to decide.

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting

It is almost time for Saturday, 5/14 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meeting at Moenkopi Legacy Inn to discuss the status of abandoned uranium mine screenings in the western agency of the Navajo Nation and safe drinking water issues.

4/28/2011Gallup Independent: Monestersky nominated to national advisory council

Monestersky nominated to national advisory council By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 4/28/2011: WINDOW ROCK – Marsha Monestersky, program manager for the Forgotten People, has been nominated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council to represent the Southwest region. Monestersky was notified April 11 that she is among the nominees to fill five vacancies on the national council. The positions must be filled before May and the advisory council is now carrying out the steps associated with an extensive clearance process so the materials can be presented to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for approval. “I am thankful and blessed that the U.S. EPA and the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water nominated me to serve on the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and appreciates my interest and willingness to commit time and effort to ensure that the nation’s drinking water is safe,” Monestersky said.

“Safe drinking water is the most precious resource of all, more precious than gold. Access to safe drinking water is a human right. Scarce water supplies in the western United States and climate change will worsen. We need to take action to plan.”

The advisory council includes five members from state and local agencies concerned with drinking water; five members from interest groups concerned with drinking water; and five members from the general public. In addition, two of the 15 members on the council represent small drinking water systems.

Over the past two decades Monestersky has worked on a wide range of environmental issues confronting the Dine people living within the western portion of the Navajo Nation. Much of her work has involved efforts to improve access to safe drinking water for residents in the Bennett Freeze area, especially in the vicinity of Black Falls, Box Springs and Grand Falls where residents have been drinking uranium- and arsenic-contaminated water from livestock watering points.

In February 2009, Forgotten People completed a U.S. EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant to provide safe drinking water to Black Falls residents. The project was expanded using additional private donations to include storage and distribution systems for 10 homes. They also created a community water-hauling service and worked with EPA and Indian Health Service to design and construct bathrooms and sanitation systems for the homes.

Through the efforts of Monestersky and the Forgotten People, the Navajo Nation issued a historic Public Health State of Emergency in January 2009 for residents of the northwestern Leupp and southeastern Cameron chapters. With money provided by U.S. EPA, Navajo Water Resources purchased five water-hauling trucks and after two years of delay, delivered the first truckload of safe drinking water to residents from the Black Falls/Box Springs/Grand Falls area on April 8.

“The success we have achieved in the Black Falls region for water haulers demonstrates the power of collaborative partnerships with academic institutions, tribal and federal agencies, pastors and faith-based groups,” Monestersky said. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration I have witnessed U.S. EPA bring science and protection back to this agency and hope to contribute to the work of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.”

Norris Nez, a Navajo medicine man, sent a letter of support to EPA on Monestersky’s behalf, saying he views her as a competent and responsible woman with wisdom and understanding of life. “I feel that she is capable and understands what the issues are and the needs and concerns of the people in our region and throughout the planet.”

Clancy Tenley, assistant director of EPA’s Superfund program, told Monestersky in March, “We appreciate the partnership of our organizations which has resulted in significant progress in recent years.” Between Forgotten People, U.S. and Navajo EPA, Navajo Department of Water Resources, Indian Health Service and others, “more has been done to address critical water issues in this region (Black Falls) than any place I know. Of course, more needs to be done.”

James W. Zion of Albuquerque, attorney for the Forgotten People, also recommended Monestersky to EPA. “I cannot think of anyone who can better give the advisory council relevant information on the needs of Indian Country or the application of emerging international norms on the right to water,” he said.