10/6/2011 Navajo Times: ‘Another insult’ U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site By Alastair Lee Bitsoi: CHURCHROCK, NM: The announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 29 that it will begin removing radioactive soil from the largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation came as no surprise for local residents. Radioactive soil from the Northeast Church Rock Mine will be removed and placed in on top of a disposal cell at the nearby United Nuclear Corporation mill site.
The removal was one of 14 disposal site plans the U.S. EPA considered and preferred when it announced cleanup plans for the site in May 2009.
It took the U.S. EPA six years of planning and over 10 public meetings to keep area residents informed of the cleanup efforts.
Officials from the Navajo EPA, who will provide oversight along with U.S. EPA of cleanup operations by General Electric, said residents from the Red Water Pond Community were informed of U.S. EPA’s decision during a Sept. 27 meeting held at the residence of Grace Cowboy and Bradley Henio in Church Rock.
“Our first priority was to ship mine waste out of the reservation to a repository in Utah,” said Larry King, a resident and member of the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, on Sept. 30.
U.S. EPA’s concern, King said, was the cost of shipping the radioactive waste off of Navajo lands to a licensed disposal facility, which would have cost the federal agency about $293.6 million to transport. This compares to $44.3 million to transport to the UNC site. Also an issue is shipping the radioactive waste through a non-Native community.
“I’m very disappointed in the decision, but it was expected because it involved an indigenous community,” King said. “Yet, uranium was being transported across Native lands in the 1970s and 1980s with no concerns at all.”
Chris Shuey, a researcher with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, said from a public health standpoint people are still going to be living near a radioactive site.
“The potential impacts of this decision are much wider in the community and the implications of this site will apply to other mines on the Navajo Nation,” said Shuey, who has conducted research on the impacts of uranium in the Church Rock area for the last 10 years.
“When we talk about the decision EPA is making it’s another insult to a long history of insult,” Shuey added.
According to the U.S. EPA, the cleanup at mine will include the removal of 1.4 million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil, which could take up to another seven to 10 years to clean up.
“This is an important milestone in the effort to address the toxic legacy of historic uranium mining on the Navajo Nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a press release. “This plan is the result of several years of collaboration between EPA, the Navajo Nation, and the Red Water Pond Road community living near the mine.”
U.S. EPA’s cleanup plan also includes sending waste containing high levels of radium or uranium off-site for reprocessing or approved disposal, address soil cleanup in a drainage east of the Red Pond Water Community, and provide voluntary housing options during the cleanup for community members directly impacted by the mine.
The removal of the waste to the UNC mill site, which has been a Superfund site for the last 20 years, also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s request to remove the waste off trust land. The UNC mill site is located on private land owned by UNC and GE.
Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, said cleanup decisions are handled on a case-by-case basis and whether sites are time critical or non-time critical, according to standards set by the federal Superfund Program.
“A cleanup decision is based on a variety of factors, such as, but not limited to if there is a responsible party, the future use of the site, the amounts of contamination that remains at a site, the level of background radiation in the area, how bad the contamination is, community input, and the status of Indian law,” Etsitty said.
Etsitty said a U.S. 10th Circuit Court decision in 2010, which focused on the definition of Navajo Indian Country, ultimately weakened the Navajo Nation’s argument to have Church Rock mine waste material transported out of Navajo country.
“The resulting remedy decision is a compromise,” Etsitty added.
In addition to the cleanup plan, GE has agreed to provide scholarships for Navajo students to attend the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University. They also agreed to exercise Navajo preference for cleanup jobs, improve the Pipeline Canyon Road and provide building material for ceremonial hogans as requested by Red Water Pond Community members.
Michele Dineyazhe, remedial project manager who will provide oversight for the Navajo EPA’s Superfund Program, said the specifics of a cleanup date have not yet been determined.
Dineyazhe said a technical team consisting of staff from GE, U.S. EPA, Navajo EPA, the state of New Mexico, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will begin meeting to design the disposal cell. The design phase will take three years.
“Something like this is a milestone, but there is still so much work to be done,” Dineyazhe said, adding that the Navajo Nation’s position is to continue addressing the legacy of uranium mining at other sites. “Our intention is to do the best we can for the Navajo people and our land.”
The Northeast Church Rock Mine operated from 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds.
GE conducted two previous cleanups at the site – one in 2007 that included the removal and rebuilding of one structure and the removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010.
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/
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
7/26/2011 Lawsuit Prompts Full Environmental Review of Uranium Mining Threatening Dolores, San Miguel Rivers in Colorado Feds Still Refuse to Revoke Leases Awarded Under Flawed Analysis
7/26/2011 Center for Native Ecosystems and Center for Biological Diversity: “Lawsuit Prompts Full Environmental Review of Uranium Mining Threatening Dolores, San Miguel Rivers in Colorado: Feds Still Refuse to Revoke Leases Awarded Under Flawed Analysis”: Contacts: Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214 x 2 and Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713 and Hilary White, Sheep Mountain Alliance, (970) 728-3729: DURANGO, Colo.— In response to a lawsuit from conservation groups, the Department of Energy has finally agreed to conduct a full, in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of uranium mining and milling in southwestern Colorado. The environmental impact statement will examine the effects of DOE’s uranium-leasing program on 42 square miles of public land near the Dolores and San Miguel rivers.
In a lawsuit that’s still pending, the conservation groups challenged the Department’s current leasing program for not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. Although DOE now concedes the need for a new and expanded environmental review, the Department continues to implement the program under the original flawed approval. In fact, it has awarded or renewed 31 leases for mining-related activities on 25,000 acres.
“The Department of Energy knows its previous environmental reviews fell short and yet leasing for uranium operations has moved forward. That badly flawed approach jeopardizes human health, wildlife and two of the West’s most precious rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The feds’ refusal to revoke approvals and leases they’ve admitted are flawed is inherently dishonest and will keep everyone in court.”
Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and threaten to pollute rivers with uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium and zinc. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium-mining operations have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.
“Even small amounts of some of these pollutants, like selenium, can poison fish, accumulate in the food chain and cause deformities and reproductive problems for endangered fish, ducks, river otters and eagles,” said Josh Pollock of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “It is irresponsible for the Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by allowing uranium leases without adequate analysis of necessary protections to prevent pollution.”
“Combined with the activities in the DOE leasing tracts, the impacts of new mining on unpatented claims in the area and the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley all add up to serious new concerns for water quality,” said Hilary White of the Sheep Mountain Alliance. “We have to understand and mitigate existing contamination problems in the area before the government allows new mining to ramp up.”
The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Center for Native Ecosystems, Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management in July 2008 for approving the program without analyzing the full environmental impacts from individual uranium-mining leases and for failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species prior to authorizing the program. The groups are represented by attorneys Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center and Jeff Parsons at the Western Mining Action Project.
DOE will take public comment on its new environmental impact statement until Sept. 9. Comments will also be accepted at public meetings Aug. 8-11 in Telluride, Naturita, San Juan County, Utah, and Montrose.