11/14/2011 Navajo Times: 5-year uranium cleanup only the beginning By Alastair Lee Bitsoi” Farmington – More than 100 people gathered here Tuesday (Nov. 8) to hear updates from federal officials on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s five-year multi-agency plan to address the health and environmental impacts of uranium development on the Navajo Nation. Called the Navajo Uranium Contamination Stakeholder Workshop, it is a three-day summit held to update tribal officials and impacted Navajo community members on the progress of the plan, which is nearing completion.
Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for EPA Region 9, said the plan has been effective, as demonstrated by the large-scale cleanup at the Skyline Mine in Monument Valley, Utah.
“This is an incredibly effective return on the dollar,” Blumenfeld said. “It brings in jobs and cleanup from the Cold War.”
In addition to the cleanup at Monument Valley, Blumenfeld said both USEPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have screened 683 structures for contamination, completing the demolition and excavation of 34 structures and 12 residential yards. They also rebuilt 14 homes, he said.
Over the summer, USEPA also announced that it would begin cleanup operations at the largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation – the Northeast Church Rock Mine – and investigate possible soil contamination at the former Gulf Mineral Mine in Mariano Lake, N.M.
Also involved in the five-year cleanup are the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, IHS, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and U.S. Department of Energy, all of which provided updates on their progress.
Their accomplishments include sampling 250 unregulated water sources, identifying and marking 28 that exceed federal drinking water standards for radiation, and funding $20 million worth of water projects to supply up to 386 homes that lack piped drinking water.
Also of importance is the CDC-funded Navajo Birth Cohort Study, which is being conducted by the University of New Mexico.
The three-year study will look at pregnancy outcomes and child development in relation to uranium exposure among Navajo women and infants.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
US EPA Pacific Southwest, Region 9 Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations: Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: The lands of the Navajo Nation include 27,000 square miles spread over three states in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of these lands makes them rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.
Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.
EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation and, since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response. In August 2007, the Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas with the most complete assessment to date of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Working with the Navajo Nation, EPA also used its Superfund authority to clean up four residential yards and one home next to the highest priority abandoned uranium mine, Northeast Church Rock Mine, at a cost of more than $2 million.
At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. EPA regularly reports back to the Committee and to the Navajo Nation on its progress (PDF) (2 pp, 489K) in implementing the Five-Year Plan. (The Progress Report was updated in August 2010 (PDF) (2 pp, 2.9M) .)
The Five-Year Plan is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan outlines a strategy for cleanup and details the cleanup process for the Navajo Nation over the next five years.
EPA is addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation — uranium contaminated water sources and structures. Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of consuming contaminated water.
EPA will also continue to use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures. EPA has already assessed about 200 structures and yards and targeted at least 27 structures and ten yards for remediation as a precaution.
Over the course of the Five-year Plan, EPA will focus on the problems posed by abandoned uranium mines, completing a tiered assessment of over 500 mines and taking actions to address the highest priority mines. As mines that pose risks are discovered, EPA may use Superfund authorities, including the National Priorities List, enforcement against responsible parties, or emergency response to require cleanup. At the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the highest-risk mine on the Reservation, EPA is requiring the owner to conduct a cleanup that is protective of nearby residents. EPA is working with the community to ensure the remainder of the site is cleaned up.
Although the legacy of uranium mining is widespread and will take many years to address completely, the collaborative effort of EPA, other federal agencies and the Navajo Nation will bring an unprecedented level of support and protection for the people at risk from these sites. Much work remains to be done, and EPA is committed to working with the Navajo Nation to remove the most immediate contamination risks and to find permanent solutions to the remaining contamination on Navajo lands.
Superfund Site Overview
US EPA, SFD 6-3
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 972-3087
Toll Free 1(800) 231-3075
Fax (415) 947-3528
Lillie Lane (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Navajo Nation EPA
P.O. Box 339
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
Maps of proposed uranium transport route thru Navajo Nation & Proximity of Abandoned Uranium Mines (AUM's) to water sources on Navajo Nation
Map of the proposed uranium transport route from the Grand Canyon through the Navajo Nation to White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah Proximity map of abandoned uranium mines to water sources on the Navajo Nation These maps were provided by Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA under the guidance of Professor Troy Abel. Thank you!
5/18/2011 Petition shines a light-Navajos ask feds to intervene against Nuclear Regulatory Commission
5/18/2011 Gallup Independent: Petition shines a light – Navajo asks feds to intervene against NRC By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – In Diné Indian Country in northwestern New Mexico, suffering is measured in milligrams per liter, millirems, and picocuries – units that measure radiation exposures, according to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining. Eric Jantz, lead attorney on the New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s uranium cases, and Larry King of Churchrock – site of the largest nuclear disaster in U.S. history – held a press conference Monday at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss the petition filed Friday asking the Human Rights Commission to intervene with the United States to stop uranium mining within the Navajo Nation. After 16 years of fighting, the Law Center has exhausted all legal remedies to overturn the mining license granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc., or HRI.
“I hope that the United States, which holds itself under the beacon of human rights internationally, is going to observe its international human rights obligations at home,” Jantz said Monday afternoon. The petition alleges human rights violations against the United States based on the NRC’s licensing of uranium mining operations in Crownpoint and Churchrock.
“This petition is important because it’s the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been taken to task for its lax regulations, and it’s also the first time that any group has petitioned based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle – in this case, the first step in the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium mining,” Jantz said.
“We’ve alleged human rights violations of right to life, right to health, and right to cultural integrity on behalf of our clients. We hope that this petition is going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States’ nuclear energy policy and at the same time, keep the uranium mining from going forward in our client’s communities,” he said.
Mat Lueras, vice president of Corporate Development for Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of HRI, said, “Uranium Resources stands behind our permits and licenses issued by a variety of federal and state regulatory bodies and are confident in our technology and people.
“We are dedicated to the welfare of the communities we operate in. We are committed to the safety of our employees, supporting the communities in which we operate and protecting the environment. We operate well within the boundaries of the rules and regulations that are required of us.”
King, a member of ENDAUM’s board of directors, said the NRC never should have given HRI a license for an in-situ leach mining operation in Crownpoint. “Why would the NRC approve a license to have a company go and destroy a community’s sole drinking water aquifer? It just does not make any sense. In the Southwest where rainfall is very scarce, every drop of water is very precious to us. We need to preserve every drop, not only for our generation, but for future generations to come so that they can enjoy what we’re enjoying today.”
The petition cites a 2003 article by Carl Markstrom and Perry Charley regarding Dine cultural attitudes toward uranium.
“In the Diné world view, uranium represents a parable of how to live in harmony with one’s environment. Uranium is seen as the antithesis of corn pollen, a central and sacred substance in Diné culture, which is used to bless the lives of Diné people. Dine Tradition says:
“The Dineh (the people) emerged from the third world into the fourth and present world and were given a choice. They were told to choose between two yellow powders. One was yellow dust from the rocks, and the other was corn pollen. The Dineh chose corn pollen, and the gods nodded in assent. They also issued a warning. Having chosen the corn pollen, the Navajo [people] were to leave the yellow dust in the ground. If it was ever removed, it would bring evil,” the article states.
Recent studies have found a strong association between living in proximity to uranium mines and negative health outcomes. The federally funded, community-based DiNEH Project – an ongoing population-based study – is examining the link between high rates of kidney disease among Navajos in Eastern Navajo Agency and exposure to uranium and other heavy metals from abandoned uranium mines. The study has found a statistically significant increase in the risk for kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disease in Diné living within a half mile of abandoned uranium mines, the petition states.
Jantz alleges that the United States, by virtue of the authority exercised by the NRC, has failed to protect conditions that promote the petitioners’ right to health by ignoring the impacts of ongoing environmental contamination from past uranium mining and milling while continuing to license uranium mining projects which will lead to further contamination.
For example, on July 16, 1979, the tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill in Churchrock broke and released 93 million gallons of radioactive liquid into the Rio Puerco, which runs through King’s land where his family’s cattle ranch is located. Radioactive waste in the bed and banks of the river has yet to be cleaned up.
If HRI is allowed to proceed with mining in Section 17 – home to three families, including King’s – under terms of the license issued by the NRC, HRI may forcibly remove them or restrict grazing, agriculture, and cultural activities such as plant gathering during mining operations, according to the petition.
“It’s a pure human rights violation,” King said.