Tag Archives: Five-year Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Information
Superfund Site Overview

Region 9 Tribal Program

Contact Information

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

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

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.”