Tag Archives: Northeast Church Rock Mine

10/6/2011 Navajo Times: 'Another insult' U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site

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.

9/29/2011 EPA announces plan to clean up largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation

9/29/2011 EPA announces plan to clean up largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation: SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it has approved a plan and committed to clean up the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the largest and highest priority uranium mine on the Navajo Nation. The cleanup will include removal of approximately 1.4 million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil and will employ the most stringent standards in the country. The cleanup will place the contaminated soil in a lined, capped facility. The multi-year cleanup will be conducted in several phases.

“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 the Pacific Southwest Region. “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.”

“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, I appreciate the efforts of the USEPA and Navajo EPA, and the cooperation from the state of New Mexico to clean up contaminated Navajo trust lands,” said Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nation. “A perfect remedy is difficult to design, and in this case every stakeholder can be proud of their input into the remedy. I look forward to the cleanup and putting people to work restoring our lands.”

The disposal cell will be designed with participation from the Navajo Nation, State of New Mexico, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Energy. EPA will fund an independent technical advisor to aid the community in their understanding of the project as it develops and facilitate local input into the design process. The cleanup will allow unrestricted surface use of the mine site for grazing and housing.

“Consolidating the waste into one repository will return the land to the Navajo Nation for their traditional use,” said David Martin, New Mexico Environment Secretary. “The cleanup will also ensure long term stewardship to protect public health and the environment.”

Northeast Church Rock mine operated as a uranium ore mine from approximately 1967 to 1982, and included an 1800-foot deep shaft, waste piles, and several surface ponds. Under EPA oversight and in conjunction with the Navajo Nation EPA, General Electric conducted two previous cleanups at the site to deal with residual contamination, including the removal and rebuilding of one building in 2007, and removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010.

Exposure to elevated levels of radium over a long period of time can result in anemia, cataracts, and cancer, especially bone cancer.

EPA’s work with Navajo Nation 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/

Contact: Margot Perez-Sullivan, (415) 328-1676, perezsullivan.margot@epa.gov

###

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