Category Archives: Us Environmental Protection Agency Superfund

5/31/2011 Gallup Independent: Section 9 A Mystery Little Known About Abandoned Uranium Operation in Cameron

5/27/2011 Gallup Independent Section 9 a mystery: Little known about abandoned uranium operation in Cameron By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: TUBA CITY – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is trying to determine exactly what kind of uranium operation was conducted at the “Section 9 Lease” site in Cameron near the banks of the Little Colorado River. EPA’s contractor, Weston Solutions, identified the site as a former mill, but that has not been confirmed, according to Clancy Tenley of US. EPA Region 9’s Superfund Division. What Weston did learn during a preliminary assessment last November is that there are three locations within Section 9 where radiation was detected at 880,000 counts per minute, 969,000 counts per minute, and more than 1 million counts per minute – far above levels considered safe. “A million counts per minute is high. I believe we have seen that at some other mines, but not very many though,” Tenley said. “We’re certainly taking this seriously.”

Cameron resident Larry Gordy and the grassroots group Forgotten People first expressed concern to EPA about the mill site and EPA sent Weston scientists out to conduct a preliminary screen. The site is believed to be located on state of Arizona land in close proximity to the Navajo Nation border.

There are 520 abandoned uranium mine sites being assessed on the Navajo Nation as part of the federally mandated Five-Year Plan begun in 2007. Tenley said that if the Section 9 site does rise to the top in the ranking of priority sites, “then our next step would be to conduct a very detailed assessment.” So far, only a partial scan has been done.

“We’re on track to get all the mines assessed and to identify those that require more immediate action,” he said. “Those in this area do have indicators that we may want to look at them in more detail soon. It’s close to the Little Colorado River, and there was a high count-per-minute reading.”

The site could be incorporated with the Five-Year Plan, he said. “What’s Indian land and what’s not varies from area to area, so the reservation boundary itself sometimes doesn’t mean that the land is not used by the tribe. In this case, where it appears that a portion of the site may be on state land, we’re conferring with our counterparts at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and we’ll determine in consultation with them and the Navajo Nation which agency takes action.”

There have not yet been any determinations made on responsible parties. According to Weston’s findings, historical documents showed the operators as Rare Metals Corp. in 1957, C.L. Rankin from 1958 to 1959, and Murchison Ventures from 1959 to 1960. Historical documents for the nearby New Liba Group mine claim, which consists of two sites – one with Western Nuclear Inc. markers – showed the operators as Shooting Star Uranium in 1955, C.S. Black in 1956, and L.L. Travis from 1959 to 1960.

The Section 9 Lease was just one of several topics discussed earlier this month at a public meeting conducted by U.S. and Navajo Nation EPA on abandoned uranium mines in Western Navajo Agency. More than 100 people turned out at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City for an update on mine cleanup activities, contaminated structures and water.

Ron Milford of Fort Defiance, who attended the meeting, said EPA explained how they have the authority to go after violators to ensure hazards are cleaned up.

“I expressed my concern about the recently approved Northeastern Arizona water rights agreement,” Milford said, and read to EPA, verbatim, Section 14 of the agreement, which states that Navajo “shall execute a waiver and release of any claims” against the state or any agency or political subdivision of the state, the Hopi Tribe, or any other person, entity, corporation or municipal corporation under federal, state or other law for all past and present claims for injury to water rights and injury to water quality for Navajo lands arising from time immemorial through the Little Colorado River enforceability date.

“I expressed concern that these corporate violators might use this clause and enforceability date to tell U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA that they don’t have to clean up their mess because they are protected by the waiver in the agreement,” Milford said. “They were confounded, to say the least. They had no answer for my concern, and said they had to go to their lawyers for this answer. It just appears to me there is much more written into the agreement to protect outside entities against prosecution,” he said.

Marsha Monestersky of Forgotten People said the water rights settlement defines Little Colorado River water as drinking water, and expressed concern because people are drinking the water. The Little Colorado River flows past Black Falls where federal and tribal agencies have implemented a water hauling program to bring safe drinking water to residents who had been relying on uranium- and arsenic-contaminated water sources.

Debbie Schechter, chief of U.S. EPA’s Brownfields & Site Assessment Section, said EPA has not sampled the Little Colorado River for contamination. “We know that that’s a concern and we will follow up on that. … We also have other sites that we’ve looked at on other parts of the Navajo Nation that are going to be a high priority as well.”

Schechter said the main purpose of the Tuba City meeting was to get input and hear concerns of people who live around the mines and the water sources that EPA has looked at. EPA also wanted to know whether local residents had more information about problem sites, knew of any sites that might have been missed, or potentially contaminated structures built from mine waste.

Though the Five-Year Plan targets 520 abandoned uranium mines, in actuality, that number takes in more than 1,000 mine features. “Within each mining claim there can be a few sites,” EPA’s Svetlana Zenkin said. She cited the Charles Huskon No. 3 mine as an example. Though only one claim, the mine has four sites. “If we count each site, the total number of these sites ends up being more than that (520).”

Monestersky noted during the meeting that according to EPA’s own count, there are 1,300 actual sites. Schechter said that number is based on mine features. “There’s different ways of counting,” she explained. “We’re not trying to minimize the number of mines; this is just how we counted. We’re still trying to look at everything.”

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.

5/12/2011 The New Mexican: Members of state board say Martinez coaxed them into pro-mine decision on Mount Taylor

Members of state board say Martinez coaxed them into pro-mine decision on Mount Taylor: Associated Press file photo Some members of the state Cultural Properties Review Committee say Gov. Susana Martinez pressured them into turning around their stance on a Traditional Cultural Property designation for Mount Taylor, shown in the background. The committee voted two years ago to designate the 11,305-foot extinct volcano, which some fear would hinder the mining industry there, and did not challenge a judge’s remand of the decision.

Some members of the state Cultural Properties Review Committee accuse Gov. Susana Martinez of pressuring them to change their vote to protect Mount Taylor because uranium companies want to mine there.  “When a committee decides things, some official up in the state office can’t tell you how you’re going to vote or what you’re supposed to do,” said committee member Clarence Fielder. “But that’s what it seems like they’re trying do.”

The committee voted two years ago to make the 11,305-foot extinct volcano and surrounding mesas north of Grants a Traditional Cultural Property. But after uranium-mining firms and other landowners appealed to state District Court, state District Judge William Shoobridge of Lovington remanded the committee’s decision.

Before a March 17 meeting, Adam Feldman, the governor’s director of Boards and Commissions, asked some members to go along with Shoobridge’s order rather than join a challenge to the state Court of Appeals by Acoma Pueblo, according to Fielder.

Gubernatorial spokesman Scott Darnell said Martinez did not pressure the committee members. But he said that since the committee had only been briefed on the issue by its attorney in the case, John Pound of Santa Fe, Feldman “asked if the board would be willing to discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting, where alternative viewpoints could be shared.”

“The governor is certainly concerned about the economic impact of overly broad designations of land as cultural property,” Darnell said. “She does believe a balance should be achieved between important cultural designations of land and the state’s future economic growth. In this case, her concern was predominantly that members of the (Cultural Properties Review Committee) have the best and most complete information available to them.”

The committee voted unanimously to join the appeal. Pound declined comment. The appellate court is not expected to act for months.

Committee Chairman Ed Boles, a historic planner for the city of Albuquerque, subsequently asked not to be reappointed to the committee, effectively tendering his resignation. He did not respond to a message seeking comment but indicated in a letter that he objected to the Governor’s Office trying to influence him.

Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie, who served as the board’s tribal representative, recused himself from the vote because his pueblo had nominated Mount Taylor. Luarkie even left the room while other committee members huddled with their attorney. The governor later removed Luarkie from the committee and replaced him with Ronald Toya of Jemez Pueblo.

Darnell said Luarkie was removed because he did not disclose Laguna Pueblo’s role in the lawsuit during the appointment process.

Luarkie was not available for comment. Toya referred questions to the Governor’s Office. “I haven’t even had my first meeting yet,” he said. “I’m getting up to speed on everything. Let me get my feet wet, and then I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

Reginald Richey, a Lincoln architect appointed to the committee this year, said Feldman never asked him to change his vote.

“He asked me what happened at the meeting, and I told him,” he said. “I don’t have enough of an opinion yet on that. It’s still very much in a state of flux.”

State Historian Rick Hendricks, who serves on the committee because of his state job, said he believes the Governor’s Office is overreacting to the designation of Mount Taylor. He said two companies already have state permits to resume uranium mining in the area, and Traditional Cultural Property designation should not prevent mining on private land within the area.

“It’s just that there’s very much a climate, I think, that is anti-historic-preservation, anti-government-involvement,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem to me that the negatives that most people associate with (traditional cultural properties) are really even there at all. It’s not unique to New Mexico. Historic preservation is under attack all over the country.”

Alan “Mac” Watson, the committee chairman under Gov. Bill Richardson, this week sent out a news release about the controversy, noting that because Martinez has been slow to appoint members to the committee, it didn’t have a quorum of five of the nine positions until the March 17 meeting.

Watson said the designation has not brought the predicted negative effects on the area’s economy. Cibola County’s unemployment rate fell slightly since the designation was made, he said.

State law requires the Cultural Properties Review Committee to include an architect, an archaeologist and a historian, in addition to the state historian. “The whole point of requiring those professions is that they’re the people with the education, the experience, the expertise that puts them in a position where they can professionally identify cultural properties,” Watson said. “My thinking is that what the governor should do is appoint qualified professionals and then get out of the way to allow them to do their job.”

Fielder, who retired last year as a history professor at New Mexico State University, is the only committee member appointed by Richardson who was reappointed by Martinez.

He said that although he thinks Martinez was wrong to pressure the board, he has no intention of resigning. “I’d like to stay,” he said. “That’s why I asked the governor to reappoint me, and she did, and I have a certificate and everything. She could take it back, though.”

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or

5/17/2011 Bennet in letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining

Bennet in 5/17/2011 letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining By David O. Williams: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Friday sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 administrator Jim Martin reminding him that the “EPA needs to be especially mindful of the adverse health effects that past uranium booms have had on workers.”

Sen. Michael Bennet

Bennet was referencing the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill in western Montrose County near the Utah state line, which opponents say the EPA is poised to approve despite outdated air quality regulations for radon emissions. Two Colorado environmental groups have asked the EPA to withhold approval until the federal agency updates its radon rules.

Bennet wrote that he’s heard from “Coloradans worried about the potential for toxic effects that uranium mining could have in this particular region. They have pointed to the nearby Uravan Mill as an example. As you know, the Uravan Mill is on your agency’s Superfund cleanup list because EPA worries hazardous releases from the site may endanger public health, welfare or the environment.”

The Democrat also noted that American taxpayers have already spent $120 million cleaning up Uravan and that he’s currently working to pass the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act and Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to better compensate the families of workers sickened or killed mining or milling uranium or working in the nuclear industry.

Bennet urged Martin to seriously consider the concerns of local governments that have sent similar letters to the EPA regarding what would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in nearly three decades. The state and Montrose County have already approved the proposed mill, although the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance has sued both governments to block the mill’s permit approvals.

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting a great success

The Saturday, 5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites was a great success. The room was filled to capacity. Debbie Schechter, Linda Reeves, Svetlana Zenkin and Brian Davidson, US EPA Superfund and Alex Grubb, Weston Associates, Contractor for US EPA Superfund presented. Frank Nez, Hathalie (Medicine Man) gave an invocation. James Peshlakai and the former governor of the Village of Upper Moenkopi presented opening remarks. Frank Nez, Lucy Knorr, Ethel Nez provided translation. People had a chance to speak and ask questions and US EPA Superfund conducted break out groups on water, abandoned uranium mines and contaminated structures.

5/13/2011 Gallup Independent: Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot

Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/13/2011 CAMERON – From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, Larry Gordy used to follow his dad on horseback across the multicolored landscape of the Painted Desert in Cameron. Eventually he started riding off on his own, seeking adventure amid the sandstone and mudstone hills while herding sheep and cattle. He was maybe 6 years old when he first encountered a rather nondescript concrete building out in the middle of nowhere. But gazing at it through the wonderment of youth, Gordy’s imagination ran wild. “I was born and raised without a permanent structure. We lived in a shack. To find a permanent structure, you were like, ‘Wow! Concrete!’ It was a favorite play place. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, that’s a fort.” It was worth riding his horse 8 miles to play all day on what he later learned was an abandoned uranium mill where ore was “concentrated,” or enriched.

“From being raised living in a shack and being covered by the Bennett Freeze where we couldn’t put anything down permanent, you saw a permanent structure way out here in the boonies and you’re hanging around it, you’re crawling on it, you’re climbing on it, and you’re looking at it – maybe you could just live out here in this permanent structure. You don’t know that it’s got radiation in it and it’s got uranium tailings in it,” he said.

The mill, which began operations in the mid-1950s, went unnoticed until last year when Gordy made mention of it to the grassroots group, Forgotten People. Together they brought it and other sites to the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Superfund.

U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA will conduct a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City to reveal their findings on the Cameron mill and the Hosteen Nez abandoned uranium mine site in Coalmine Chapter. They also will discuss their efforts to address abandoned uranium mines and safe drinking water in Western Navajo Agency.

Gordy, now 42, said his dad first told him about the mill. “Back in these rocks you’ll see a bunch of makeshift camp sites,” he said during a recent tour. “They were all the campsites for the Navajo people that worked here. From what my mom and dad told me, this was a real Sodom and Gomorrah out here. There was people making money, 24-hour parties. But everybody left just as fast as they showed up.”

Weston Solutions Inc. was contracted by EPA to do a site screen of the mill, located on state of Arizona land bordering the Navajo Nation. Radiation levels ranged from around 50,000 counts per minute for the bare cement foundation to 1 million counts per minute from the small dirt piles atop the foundation, compared to the average background reading of less than 16,000. The Little Colorado River Basin runs through the eastern edge of the mill site.

“Years ago, I’d come out here in the summertime and it would be like 100 degrees. You’re riding your horse down the river and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go over to this fort over here and hang out a little bit,” Gordy said. “You’d wrap your rope around some of these structures out here, and you’d go into this cave-looking thing” inside the mill. “It was really cool, and you’d sleep in here and take an evening nap. It was so awesome.”

The “cave” is a portion of the 100 foot-by-50 foot mill that is still intact. It has a square hole in the ceiling and a vehicle license plate from the 1950s cemented into the wall.

“When you ride around out here, you carry your lariat all the time. You come out here and you’ve got that little hole in the concrete with maybe a 20 foot drop. We used to anchor the rope to the horse and crawl in and out of that hole or pull people out, pretending we were doing a rescue,” Gordy said.

Sometimes he and his cousins would ride out together and tie off their horses to a piece of rebar sticking out of the concrete. They’d take a run a go and jump into the blown sand piles in front of the building or lead their horses up and down the chute, which still today is lined with highly radioactive waste.

About a quarter to a half mile away from the mill there’s one of many Western Nuclear Inc. markers and as Gordy said, “probably 20 or 30 core markers sticking out of the ground that are halfway rotted. From what I understand these were drilled test holes. They ran around all over the place drilling holes.” The markers have metal plates with numbers on them. “They were taking readings off of each sample that they took and numbering them,” he said.

Near the wetland area, Gordy and Marsha Monestersky, program director for Forgotten People, found the remains of a campfire and an old beer can. “Over the years people have come out here to just party. How many people have passed out in these uranium tailings?” Gordy said. And then pointing to a waste pile, “You see those little white mounds over there? Those things maxed out EPA’s Geiger counter.”

Though he never worked in the uranium mines or the mill, Gordy wonders what will happen if he gets sick. He questions the 1971 cutoff date to qualify for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. “They left the mines open where I hung around and played in. How can they close the date on it when they’ve got uranium tailings still laying all over the place? I would think if you’re going to close the compensation dates, you would close them after you got all of the uranium sites closed and controlled. Here we are, 2011, and we’re still exposed to it.

“My mom come up with this brain tumor type of brain cancer. We don’t know where she got it – living out here possibly. The thing with living out here is, how do you separate what illnesses are coming from your environment and what illnesses are normal? With the dust blowing and everything out here, who knows what you could catch,” he said.

Doug Brugge, Ph.D., M.S., professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, reviewed three site screen reports for Forgotten People. The radiation levels for the Section 9 lease, which includes the mill, are both higher and appear to be spread out over a larger geographic area, he said.

“Mills tend to be built near water. I think the EPA report acknowledges that contamination could be moving from the site into the river. That seemed to be EPA’s primary concern in terms of exposure both to the environment and to people – the potential for contamination to get into the river,” Brugge said.

“My main question is what comes next, and is this enough evidence for EPA to do anything more, or are they going to write these off?” The mill’s close proximity to the Little Colorado River might be the strongest motivator for cleanup, he said, because the Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to millions of people from Arizona to California.

Monestersky said Forgotten People appreciates EPA’s prompt response in investigating the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill, the open pits and tailings piles, and Goldsprings mines. “Forgotten People respectfully requests the U.S. EPA do everything necessary to protect wetlands and water sources, and conduct radiation surveys beyond the borders of these sites to assess levels of contamination to downstream users on the Little Colorado River and contamination of water resources throughout the region.

“How could the U.S. EPA and other agencies miss the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill when they did aerial flyovers to assess contamination?” she said.

5/5/2011 Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium

Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium PHOENIX, Ariz. – Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 36 Arizona groups, have weighed in to support a federal proposal for a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park. A public comment period has just ended. The Obama administration is expected to decide the issue in the next few weeks. Lynn Hamilton is the executive director of Grand Canyon River Guides, a nonprofit group of professional river guides and individuals who love the Grand Canyon. She warns that runoff from existing uranium mines has already polluted several rivers, creeks and springs within the national park. “It’s really alarming for people to feel like the areas that they’re visiting and recreating in, which they consider to be wilderness areas, are tainted in this way.”

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and 62 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to approve the proposed 20-year moratorium. Several local governments and Native American tribal governments have also endorsed the proposed mining ban. The industry maintains that modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.

Hamilton says Native Americans living in northern Arizona have been especially hard-hit by water pollution resulting from uranium mining.

“It’s really a deadly history. Many Native Americans have died from drinking tainted water or from using that water to sustain their livestock and crops when it’s contaminated.”

Hamilton also expresses concern about the potential effect on tourism from uranium mining claims that are “right on the doorstep” of the Grand Canyon.

“This is an area that draws 5 million visitors each year. It contributes almost $700 million annually to the regional economy.”

Grand Canyon tourism supports some 12,000 full-time jobs, she adds.

5/4/2011 – 306,000 Comments submitted today in support of 1-million-acre protection of the Grand Canyon

5/4/2011 – Forgotten People just learned, a total of 306,000 comments were submitted in support of Alternative B (full 1-million-acre protection), which is nothing short of historic. Great work Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and the People!
Grand Canyon Uranium Mining PSA
Please take action by May 4th to protect the Grand Canyon! Narrated by Craig Childs and directed by James Q Martin, this short video makes a compelling case for the Obama administration’s proposal to protect 1 million acres of public land surrounding…,

Save the Grand Canyon from uranium mining
Posted on April 30, 2011 by forgottenpeople

Uranium mining rips up huge tracts of land to extract radioactive material for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.1 For the past two years, the Grand Canyon has been protected from these ravages. But now, the temporary mining moratorium is set to expire. The Grand Canyon’s fragile ecosystem, stunning beauty, and vital water supply are threatened by 1,100 new mining claims that have been filed within five miles of this priceless “crown jewel.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering a 20-year ban on mining to protect the Grand Canyon’s entire one-million acre watershed. But there are other proposals on the table, and industry lobbyists are encouraging BLM to open the floodgates for the uranium mining rush. It’s essential that we urge the BLM to protect the Grand Canyon.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban uranium mining at the Grand Canyon. Submit a public comment now. The high price of uranium makes its extraction extremely lucrative for mining companies, but shockingly, the practice is regulated by the antiquated 1872 Mining Law which has no environmental standards to limit the devastation and radioactive damage that results to wildlife, soil, ground and surface water. In fact, the law actually makes exploitative mining a priority over all other uses of public lands. The legacy of mining in the Grand Canyon and has already wrought lasting damage to surrounding areas and tribal communities, who have banned mining on all their lands…. Read More

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.