Tag Archives: Superfund

11/14/2011 Navajo Times: 5-year uranium cleanup only the beginning

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.

10/10/2011 Gallup Independent: Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed

10/10/2011 Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed by Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall sought assurances Thursday from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Navajos living in Crownpoint would have a safe source of drinking water if Hydro Resources Inc. carries through with its plans for in situ mining of uranium in the Westwater Canyon Aquifer. In a hearing on cleanup of legacy uranium sites before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, Udall also pressed the NRC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on proposed future uranium mining operations.

“Crownpoint is the location of a proposed in-situ leach uranium recovery operation near the Churchrock legacy site, and I understand the NRC has set up a license for HRI at the Crownpoint site that is dependent on several conditions, including legacy cleanup,” Udall said, and asked the NRC to clarify the status and content of HRI’s permit.

Michael Weber of the NRC said HRI, a subsidiary of Uranium Resources Inc., is in the process of completing some preparatory activities and he expects the agency to issue a letter to HRI in the near future, authorizing them to proceed.

The Westwater aquifer, a major source of drinking water for Crownpoint, “is fairly good water,” which the community has relied on for a long time, Udall said. “If the requirements of the permit were fulfilled, could the NRC and the EPA guarantee a safe and a consistent water source for the Crownpoint community?”

Weber said a “unique” provision of the NRC license is it requires HRI to provide an alternate water source for the local community before the company begins mining. “Typically, the in-situ recovery facilities are located at some distance from communities and so that doesn’t present itself, but in this situation, because of the unique circumstances involving HRI-Crownpoint, that was a provision in the licensing of the facility,” he said.

HRI must replace two Navajo Tribal Utility Authority water supply wells and three Bureau of Indian Affairs wells. In addition, the company must construct the necessary water pipeline and provide funds so the existing water supply systems of NTUA and BIA can be connected to the new wells.

“I would point out that in the history of in-situ recovery regulation, we have not seen a situation where a local supply well has been adversely impacted by the mining,” Weber said. However, he added, there have been “excursions.”

“An excursion is where an elevated level has been detected in either a monitoring well laterally, distant from the minefield, or above or below the aquifer that’s being mined,” he said. “If those excursions are detected, the licensee has to take action to correct that situation and at the end of active mining has to restore the aquifer back to suitable water-quality standards.”

Udall said he thought that license condition was “greatly appreciated by the local community.”

Eric Jantz, attorney for Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, which has vigorously opposed HRI’s plans to mine uranium in Crownpoint and Churchrock, said, “I have not heard anyone in Crownpoint express appreciation that License Condition 10.27 was included. All of the people I’ve spoken with are just pissed off that the project was licensed in the first place.”

An interesting problem for HRI, he said, is that in 1991, HRI applied to New Mexico Environment Department for an aquifer designation for its Crownpoint site, which the state granted. However, EPA, exercising its supervisory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, overruled NMED.

“In rejecting HRI’s aquifer designation application, EPA said that the Westwater aquifer at the Crownpoint site is an underground source of drinking water. I can’t see how – either technically or politically – EPA could backtrack from this position. All this seems to suggest HRI couldn’t mine at the Crownpoint site even if it wanted to,” Jantz said.

“Given that Section 17 and Unit 1 are Indian Country and subject to the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act, that only leaves HRI with Section 8.” The 2005 act prohibited uranium mining and processing in Navajo Indian Country.

Chris Shuey of Southwest Research Information Center said NTUA’s management board adopted a resolution in December 1997 asserting that it would not allow replacement of its two municipal wells in Crownpoint.

“In March 2005, Dr. John Leeper with the Navajo Water Resources Department gave an expert declaration in which he concluded that the Westwater aquifer would continue to be a major source of water supply for the Eastern Agency, even with development of the Navajo-Gallup project water line, and that the Navajo-Gallup project was never intended to replace the use or reliance on groundwater for municipal and agricultural supply in the Eastern Agency,” Shuey said.

NRC’s condition that HRI provide an alternate water supply was not opposed, Shuey said, “since it was an acknowledgment by even NRC that, despite HRI’s assurances to the contrary, ISL mining could not be done at the Crownpoint wellfield without impacting at least NTUA-1 and possibly impacting NTUA -2.”

NRC called the location of proposed ISL mining within a half mile of a currently operating municipal water supply well “unprecedented” in the history of ISL mining, Shuey said.

In the 1997 resolution, which was adopted unanimously, NTUA said the NRC proposal did not address future operation and maintenance expenses the utility may incur due to calcification of its water distribution system, nor future water quality and quantity concerns in connection with the relocated water supply wells and restoration of groundwater after mining.

“The Management Board directs NTUA management to inform HRI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it will not agree to plug and abandon its Crownpoint wells.”

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.

10/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set

10/1/2011 Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: CHURCHROCK – After more than two years of debate and a dozen public meetings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen to move approximately 1.4 million tons of radioactive soil from Northeast Churchrock Mine to a lined disposal cell on top of an unlined cell at a nearby Superfund site. EPA evaluated 14 disposal sites before choosing the same “preferred alternative” cleanup plan announced in May 2009. By disposing of the radium- and uranium-contaminated waste at the nearby United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill now owned by General Electric, the entities averted the lengthy process of siting and licensing a new disposal facility, which can take decades.

“They’ve just been playing around with us, and just to butter us up they’ve been having those stakeholder meetings, that’s what I found out,” Teddy Nez, president of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, said Monday.

Cleanup could be accomplished in 2018 at a cost of $44.3 million, compared to the $293.6 million it would take to transport the waste to a licensed disposal facility. By moving the contaminated soils next door to Churchrock Chapter on private land owned by UNC/GE, it also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s requirement that the waste be transported off tribal lands.

“All they’re going to do, the way I understand it, is scrape the cap off, put it to the side, line it, and then put the other stuff on top. It’s basically going to be a new mountain,” Nez said.

EPA Region 9 found there was not enough room at the mill site to construct a new cell for the mine waste, as previously discussed, without impacting ongoing groundwater remediation efforts by Region 6. The major factor influencing the ultimate height of the cells is whether the waste is placed on all three existing cells, or is limited to one or two cells. EPA estimates the cells could grow by up to 10 feet in height but would be designed to blend into the landscape.

“Our position is move the stuff over there but dig out the contaminated trash, go to the bottom, then line it, put the old waste back in there and then put the other waste on top – both wastes, UNC and Kerr-McGee,” Nez said. In addition to Northeast Churchrock, EPA also is addressing two sites at the adjacent Quivira Mine formerly owned by Kerr-McGee.

Both U.S. EPA and Navajo EPA representatives held informal community meetings with Red Water Pond Road residents in April and May to explain the work going on in relationship to the two mines. They also held an informal meeting with residents a week prior to Thursday’s announcement. Nez said they were told not to invite the media.

Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9 said they just wanted to meet with the Red Water Pond Road residents. “That was the first time we were telling anybody how we were going to clean it up, so we did intend to have it just them and not to be a big public meeting,” he said.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of Navajo EPA, said every time U.S. EPA came out to meet with residents, they also were there. “We’ve heard the concerns from the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, we’ve had our own meetings with EPA directly, and we were able to brief the president at least three different occasions.” he said.

Residents were reassured they would have an opportunity to provide input during the three-year design phase. Nez said EPA will pay for the community association to hire Southwest Research Information Center as its technical consultant to aid the community in its understanding of the project as it develops and facilitate local input into the design process.

Transportation of “principal threat waste,” or the most highly contaminated soils, to an off-site disposal facility is another factor in the cleanup, Etsitty said.

“That volume of soil is yet to be determined. If it looks like the soils might be reprocessed and there is some economic gain possible, they’ll be taken to a reprocessing facility. I believe that’s in Utah,” he said. If it’s not possible, the soils will be transported 650 miles to the U.S. Ecology facility in Grand View, Idaho.

GE has offered to provide one scholarship per year for a Navajo student to attend either the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University, according to Nez, as well as improve Pipeline Canyon Road near the mine and mill sites, and provide building materials for four ceremonial hogans as requested by community residents. GE also will exercise Navajo hiring preference.

“Those are things that GE conveyed to EPA in a letter and that letter will be made part of the administrative record, but those things cannot be put into the administrative order of consent as enforceable items,” Etsitty said. “So we’re going to have to find a way to make sure that those promises are binding somehow.”

The UNC Mill, or final burial ground for the mine wastes, ceased operations in 1982 and was listed on U.S. EPA Superfund’s National Priorities List in 1983. EPA Region 6 has been actively trying to clean up contaminated groundwater at the site, but the plume has been steadily migrating closer to Navajo Nation boundaries.

Etsitty said they are concerned about groundwater contamination. “We want to know if there’s going to be any potential groundwater impacts underneath the mine site as well as what we know already about the mill site.”

Churchrock residents Scotty Begay and Larry King brought up concerns during public meetings about adding extra weight on top of the existing cell. Tenley said they received documents from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then did an evaluation of the compressibility of the material as to whether there would be any impact on the cell or to the groundwater.

“There is groundwater contamination north of the cells. The question is, is there water still in the cells that would be squished out from putting additional waste on it,” he said. “We determined that the material could be safely placed there without affecting the stability or the groundwater.”

Disposal of the waste is contingent on UNC receiving a license amendment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and approval by EPA Region 6.

Tenley said Region 9’s next step will be to meet with residents who were temporarily relocated during the last cleanup to discuss lodging arrangements for the next phase. They have one of two options.

“One is they could take a temporary move-out of their house during the cleanup, but that would be in a hotel for potentially years, and that’s not a very attractive alternative,” he said. The other option allows EPA to offer a “cash-out” for a permanent residence in the area that would be of comparable value in lieu of staying in a hotel, he said.

Prior to the big move, an emergency removal action will be conducted next summer near the home of Grace Cowboy, east of Red Water Pond Road, where a significant amount of contamination was found as a result of mine site runoff. An estimated 30,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste material will be removed and stockpiled at the mine site along with other waste removed during the previous interim cleanup. Estimated cleanup cost is $2 million.

Northeast Churchrock Mine operated from around 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot deep shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds. GE has conduced two previous cleanups, one during 2010 in which more than 40,000 tons of contaminated soils were moved and stockpiled at the mine site to await final cleanup.

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

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9/16/2011 EPA Advancing Clean Up at 15 Hazardous Waste Sites, Proposing 11 Sites for Action

9/16/2011 Environmental Justice Mailing List: EPA Advancing Clean Up at 15 Hazardous Waste Sites, Proposing 11 Sites for Action: WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding 15 hazardous waste sites that pose risks to people’s health and the environment to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. EPA is also proposing 11 sites to be added to the list. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country with the goal of protecting people’s health and the environment through long-term and short-term cleanup activities.

To date, 1,652 sites have been listed on the NPL. Of these sites, 350 sites have been cleaned up, resulting in 1,302 sites currently on the NPL (including the 15 sites added today). There are 62 proposed sites (including the 11 announced today) awaiting final agency action.

With all NPL sites, EPA works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and require them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting significant cleanup at the site. Therefore, it may be several years before significant EPA clean up funding is required for these sites.

The following 15 sites have been added to the National Priorities List:

* Blue Ledge Mine (abandoned mine) in Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest, Calif.;
* New Idria Mercury Mine (abandoned mercury mine) in Idria, Calif.;
* Armstrong World Industries (ceiling tile manufacturer) in Macon, Ga.;
* Sandoval Zinc Company (former zinc smelter) in Sandoval, Ill.;
* Gary Development Landfill (former landfill) in Gary, Ind.;
* Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp – Columbus (former pressure –treated railroad products manufacturer) in Columbus, Miss.;
* Red Panther Chemical Company (former pesticides formulation plant) in Clarksdale, Miss.;
* Horton Iron and Metal (former fertilizer manufacturer and metal salvage) in Wilmington, N.C.;
* Garfield Ground Water Contamination (contaminated ground water plume) in Garfield, N.J.;
* Chevron Questa Mine (molybdenum mine) in Questa, N.M.;
* New Cassel/Hicksville Ground Water Contamination (contaminated ground water plume) in Hicksville, Hempstead, and
North Hempstead, N.Y.;
* North Ridge Estates (former WWII medical facility) in Klamath Falls, Ore.;
* US Finishing/Cone Mills (former textile operation) in Greenville, S.C.;
* Alamo Contaminated Ground Water (contaminated ground water plume) in Alamo, Tenn.; and
* Falcon Refinery (inactive refinery) in Ingleside, Texas.

The following 11 sites have been proposed to the National Priorities List:

* Jervis B. Webb Co. (former manufacturer) in South Gate, Calif.;
* Seam Master Industries (adhesive manufacturer) in South Gate, Calif.;
* Continental Cleaners (former dry cleaners) in Miami, Fla.;
* Leeds Metal (former scrap metal facility) in Leeds, Maine;
* Compass Plaza Well TCE (contaminated ground water plume) in Rogersville, Mo.;
* Eighteenmile Creek (contaminated creek) in Niagra County, N.Y.;
* Southeastern Wood Preserving (former wood treating operation) in Canton, Miss.;
* Metro Container Corporation (former drum recycler) in Trainer, Pa.;
* Corozal Well (contaminated ground water plume) in Corozal, Puerto Rico;
* US Oil Recovery (used oil recovery facility) in Pasadena, Texas; and
* Bremerton Gasworks (former gasworks facility) in Bremerton, Wash.

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/current.htm

Information about how a site is listed on the NPL: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm

Superfund sites in local communities: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/index.htm

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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

8/3/2011 Gallup Independent: Chevron to investigate uranium contamination at Mariano Lake Mine site

8/3/2011 Gallup Independent: Chevron to investigate uranium contamination at Mariano Lake Mine site By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with Chevron USA Inc. to investigate radium-contaminated soil at a former uranium mine in McKinley County. The Mariano Lake Mine, or “Old Gulf Mine,” was operated by Gulf Mineral Resources Co., from 1977 to 1982. Gulf previously held the mining leases before it merged with Chevron in 1985. The agreement is the latest result in an ongoing effort by U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA to address the uranium mining legacy on the Navajo Nation. Of the 520 abandoned uranium mines identified through a federal five-year plan, Mariano Lake is the fourth one slated for time-critical interim removal action, “so that tells you it’s a high priority,” said Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9’s Superfund Division. The other priority sites include Northeast Churchrock, Quivira and Skyline mines.

“It’s only a 31-acre site, so a relatively small footprint,” Andrew Bain, EPA remedial project manager, said Monday. “They had a single shaft that was 519 feet deep, so they were extracting ore below the water table.” The shaft was located in the eastern area of the site, while the western area reportedly was used as an evaporation pond for mine water.

“This one came up of interest not just because of the surface contamination that we learned about in the course of doing both site-assessment work and removal assessment work, but also because of the production wells nearby in Mariano Lake community.” EPA has confirmed the production wells are fine but wants to test wells in the vicinity of the mine just to make sure there’s no contamination that could impact the production wells in the future, he said.

Under the agreement, Chevron will conduct a radiological survey and sample radium-contaminated soil throughout the site and surrounding area, including 10 residences and two nearby water wells. “We’re looking at the roads, the soils atop the old mining areas as well as nearby,” and a parking area of concern, Bain said. “After we do the characterization work then we’ll have a pretty good feel for where the areas of contamination are.”

In July 2008, EPA conducted a preliminary gamma radiation activity assessment on portions of the site and detected elevated readings, which prompted further assessment work. From around November 2009 through May 2010, EPA conducted gamma surveys at nine home-sites and did additional soil scans of the mine area. Elevated readings of gamma radiation were found at the site and radium-226 in some of the surface soils.

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

“We’ve worked over the last couple years through our Emergency Response Office to reduce the impacts posed by those soils. There was a family there who had their trailer moved and cleaned up as part of our earlier effort,” Bain said.

U.S. EPA and Navajo EPA will oversee field work at the site, which will include construction of a fence and application of a sealant to contaminated soils where people live, work and play – similar to activities which took place at Northeast Churchrock, Quivira and Skyline mines – 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. Chevron visited the site last week along with U.S. EPA oversight.

Navajo EPA is conducting gamma scans and soil sampling, which is the first step in assessing potential impacts from the mine site and any requisite cleanup action.

“We’re interested in looking at the extent of contamination in the surface soils and figure out how deep that contamination extends, both vertically and laterally. We just wanted to make sure that based on their operations they weren’t releasing radionuclides or other heavy metals that would have gotten into nearby drainages or other soils adjacent to the mine area,” Bain said.

The Mariano Lake site underwent reclamation similar to the Quivira Mine in Churchrock under Bureau of Land Management oversight back in the 1990s, Bain said, however, BLM doesn’t have the same standards as EPA in terms of looking at environmental releases. “Their focus is preventing people from falling in shafts and being right on top of these mine wastes. We’re looking at more of the diffuse risks based on long-term exposure to the wastes.”

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said he is looking forward to the data that will be generated from the EPA investigation. “I respectfully request U.S. EPA to understand our desires for the most protective cleanup plans that will help restore harmony in our communities and homes.”

Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region, stated in a press release that EPA is “working to make sure that every responsible party takes the steps needed to protect Navajo families from radioactive contamination.”

Chevron, which has agreed to pay oversight costs, is the fifth responsible party that EPA has required to take action at former uranium mines on the Navajo Navajo. A Removal Site Evaluation report is expected to be completed by Jan. 31, 2012. Based on results of the evaluation, a second removal action would begin in April 2012 if necessary.

Information: http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/