Delegate concerned about cleanup of Highway 160 site, By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 4/20/2011, WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency has selected a contractor to begin cleanup of the “Highway 160 Site” in Tuba City and will host a Radiation Awareness Workshop next week at To’Nanees’Dizi Chapter House to educate the public, according to Navajo Nation Council Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler. “Area residents need to be reassured that the cleanup and transport of radioactive material is done in an effective and efficient manner without causing further harm to the surrounding area. During the summer it’s windy, and anyone downwind could be affected,” Butler, who represents To’Nanees’ Dizi, said.
“It is vitally important federal and tribal officials begin educating and notifying people of concerns for safety and activities associated with this cleanup. I will continue to keep our people informed and will urge the agencies involved to take all safety precautions to ensure it is done in a manner to protect the health of our people and of our environment,” he said.
The Radiation Awareness Workshop will be held 8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 27-28, with three sessions April 27 for the general public, and two more in-depth sessions April 28 for emergency and public safety personnel, according to Butler.
The Highway 160 Site is located about 5 miles east of Tuba City along Arizona Highway 160. It is directly north of the former Rare Metals uranium mill owned by El Paso Natural Gas and managed by U.S. Department of Energy’s Legacy Management.
According to an October 2010 statement of work, the Highway 160 site was discovered by Navajo EPA in 2003. The agency conducted radiological and soil analysis the following May and released a final report in September 2004. The site was found to have high radiological readings, including a finding of more than 1 million counts per minute.
In 2006 and 2007, Navajo EPA contracted William Walker of Walker & Associates, Inc., to conduct further site investigation. Walker found evidence that linked the contamination to Rare Metals, including ceramic tumblers and Normandy pebbles possibly used in the mill processing operation. Radiological levels ranged from 400 counts per minute to more than 10,000 counts per minute.
Analysis was performed on 47 soil samples and Walker released a final report in 2007 identifying radiological concerns that are affecting the immediate environment as well as health and safety concerns for humans, animals and plants. Groundwater at the Highway 160 site has not been characterized, according to Navajo EPA.
Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, who lives in the Upper Village of Moenkopi, is concerned, according to Butler. The Highway 160 Site is in close proximity not only to Rare Metals – where DOE has been treating contaminated groundwater for nearly a decade – but also another site known as the Tuba City Open Dump, where radioactive contamination also was found.
“There is some radioactive contamination that is showing up in a plume that is coming off the Tuba City Open Dump,” Shingoitewa said. “The plume is also moving into the drinking water, so both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation are working as partners very closely to make sure that the open dump site will be cleaned up.”
The Highway 160 Site is within the customary use area of a family who used the area to graze their livestock. In late 2007, El Paso provided further surveys of the site and confirmed the presence of buried debris up to 13 feet deep. El Paso fenced nearly 8 acres of the 16-acre site and applied a polymer cover to prevent windblown contamination.
Stephen B. Etsitty, who has been executive director of Navajo EPA since 2003 and was confirmed again Wednesday by Council, said they fought DOE for years for recognition of the site, and finally in Fiscal Year 2009 received congressional authority and a $5 million appropriation through DOE to clean up the site. DOE will keep $500,000 of that amount for oversight of the project. “It will be a clean closure,” Etsitty said, meaning that all contaminated soil will be removed and transported away from the Navajo Nation to an approved disposal facility.
Cassandra Bloedel of Navajo EPA, in an exit interview in January with the 21st Council’s Resources Committee, said the waste will be removed this year, possibly by August, and transported on state highways for final disposal at the “Cheney Cell,” about 12 miles southeast of Grand Junction, Colo.