Tag Archives: Uranium Waste

10/1/2011 Washington Examiner by The AP: Feds, companies reach deal on Wash. uranium mine

10/1/2011 Washington Examiner by The Associated Press: Feds, companies reach deal on Wash. uranium mine: The federal government has reached an agreement with two mining companies to clean up a uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. According to the Justice Department, costs of cleaning up the Midnite Mine Superfund Site will be $193 million. The 350-acre site was designated a potential hazard to people’s health in 2006 due to the presence of heavy metals and elevated levels of radioactivity.

The mining companies — Newmont USA Limited, and Dawn Mining Company, LLC — will cover most of the cleanup expenses and will reimburse the Environmental Protection Agency an additional $25 million. The U.S. Department of the Interior will contribute $54 million toward past and future cleanup activities.

The Midnite Mine operated from 1954 to 1964, and again from 1969 to 1981, resulting in numerous waste rock piles and two open mine pits.

Officials expect the project to take about a decade to complete.
Read more at the Washington Examiner

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – In 1951, the Navajo Tribal Council sent a proposal to Washington that would permit Navajos to lease their lands to whites and also make it easier for them to obtain prospecting permits. Since exploration began in 1942, the mining business in Monument Valley had contributed $170,000 in royalties to tribal coffers. Uranium ore was raising the standard of living. Across the valley, uranium mines sprang up much like the red sandstone rocks that erupted from the desert floor. Unsuspecting Navajos took to the rocks with picks and shovels, little knowing that the uranium and vanadium gleaned from the yellow outcrops of carnotite would leave permanent scars on the landscape and the people.

At Skyline Mine on Oljato Mesa, 5,794 feet above sea level, a gondola running along a steel cable was used to transport ore from atop the mesa to the “transloading” area below, where it was placed in trucks and hauled to a mill for processing.

“The miners would ride up in the bucket back in the day,” according to Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Emergency Response Section. Now, all that remains of the mine that inspired dreams of sky-high wealth is about 30,000 cubic yards of radium-contaminated soil which EPA is in charge of removing.

During the 1990s, portions of the Skyline Mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, consolidating loose mine waste and capping it with clean fill dirt. But due to the steep terrain, some wastes at the eastern edge of the mesa and at the bottom were not removed.

Skyline is the first abandoned uranium mine U.S. EPA will complete cleanup at under a five-year inter-agency plan to address the Cold War legacy of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. The federal agency is working with Navajo EPA to prioritize and clean up the highest-risk abandoned uranium mines from among 520 sites.

Eugene Esplain, a health physicist with Navajo EPA’s Superfund program, said that between 1995 and 2000 they screened the Skyline Mine site after talking to local resident Elsie Begay – a central figure in the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

Esplain and co-workers walked from the foot of the mesa to the top, assessing the contamination. “A little over a thousand feet we got high readings, so we kept going up the slope and the readings got more elevated the higher we went. This one went as high as 10 times background,” he said.

Esplain suffered a fall and ended up having knee surgery, but they were able to grade the site. “We didn’t do any characterization work up there. We knew that we didn’t have the tools or manpower to do this work. We reported it to our supervisor as such, and that we should ask U.S. EPA to take the lead on this one,” he said.

The $7 million project was initiated by U.S. EPA in August 2009 and on March 28 of this year they mobilized to come out and begin work on the disposal cell on top of the mesa.

About 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed from the arroyo, and approximately 5,000 cubic yards each from the transloading area and the “talus slope,” a pile of radioactive waste rock and ore that either was pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. An estimated 10,000 cubic yards more were removed from the top of the mesa. A gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff, a visual reminder of the years of mining activity.

All contaminated soils on the valley floor have been stockpiled into one huge red pile, which is being whittled away 4 cubic yards at a time using a modern version of the “skyline.” The top cable, or skyline, runs from a piece of heavy equipment on the mesa to another piece of heavy equipment below. A second line, called a haul-back line, pulls the hopper up and down the cliff.

As soon as the bucket has landed, a front-end loader loads it with one straight-up bucketful from the stockpile of soil, then the skyline goes up and transports the hopper to the top, where it drops its load into a truck and then returns to the valley floor, Musante said. The cycle takes about 4-1/2 minutes. When full, the truck deposits the soil into the disposal cell a short distance away.

Air monitors are triangulated around the housing area at the foot of the mesa, where five families reside, with another set of monitors surrounding the work area on the cliff. The contaminated soils are wet and mixed to prevent the dust from blowing around. “Sometimes we also do active dust suppression where we’ve got like a fog of water spraying in the air to knock out the dust particles that are created,” he said.

“We have really good confidence that there’s not an excess exposure being created by our work activities for residents nearby. Based on two months worth of data, families were told they could move back if they wanted. Two families returned and others are expected to begin moving back Tuesday. The nearly six-month project is expected to be done by Labor Day.

On the upper slope at the edge of the mesa, they removed contaminated material 10 to 15 feet deep. “We got about 90 percent of what was there, but with the technique we’re using out here and that bucket, once it hits those large cobbles, it can’t get the small stuff underneath, so there is a little bit of residual material,” he said. “But I think the main point is we were able to remove a significant quantity of the material that was going to continue to fall down over the side.”

Given the dangerous terrain, they have been very fortunate, with only one freak accident. “When we were excavating this upper slope area with the dredge bucket, for what appears to be quality control or a failure in the cable itself, the haul-back cable snapped while the dredge bucket unit was at the very top,” Musante said. “Then the operator-activated brake failed to engage, the safety brake wasn’t enough to stop the unit, and the warning horn didn’t go off.

“It was kind of ‘the system failed as it was designed’ and the dredge bucket traveled all the way down to the anchor, flew off and flew back about 80 feet. The one thing I can say is that while that was a completely random action that no one could have predicted – and it wasn’t for lack of safety procedures – we had an exclusion area so that nobody was standing right behind there when that did happen.” The incident is under investigation.

Mary Helen Begay, Elsie’s daughter-in-law, has been documenting the cleanup in “webisodes,” which she presented last week at the 2011 Tribal Lands and Environment Forum in Green Bay, Wisc. Begay attended the forum along with Jeff Spitz, co-producer of “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

She said that at one of the screenings she met a woman, originally from Cameron, who wanted to share her story. “She remembered drinking out of this well,” which in later years she found out was named after one of the uranium mines. “She lost several family members.”

Begay then told the audience how she lost her dad, several uncles, nieces and brothers-in-law to illnesses related to uranium. “I said right now I have an uncle who is dying from cancer. My uncle is in his last stage. He’s in his hospice stage. The cancer has spread across his lungs. All he’s waiting for is time for him to go. There’s nothing that can be done, so they’re just giving him painkillers.

“Not only that, I said, when you look at the movie again (Navajo Boy), you see a medicine man performing a healing ritual ceremony, the Wind Way. Many of our Navajo people have utilized medicine men out there. A lot have died, but some are still living but don’t have documents of their medical. They have nothing to prove that they have problems with breathing or any type of health issues,” she said, therefore, they can’t get federal compensation for radiation-related illnesses.

And then she shared with them the story about Skyline Mine. “The cleanup that’s being done right now, I thought they were doing a good job,” she said. But recently she was told that areas on the back side of the mine where prior reclamation efforts were done, have elevated readings. Though those areas are outside the scope of EPA’s emergency removal action at Skyline, she questions why they were not included in the cleanup.

“Do we need to fight for more money and say we need the rest of it cleaned up? What do we need to do?”

8/21/2011 Att'y letter to UN CERD & Right to Water and Free Assembly

James Zion Letter to Patrick Thorn Berry UN CERD Committee Member“>JAMES W. ZION, Attorney at Law, Admitted in the Navajo Nation, Connecticut and the United States Supreme Court, 3808 Ladera Drive N.W., Albuquerque, NM 87120, (505) 839-9549, August 21,2011 TO: Professor Patrick Thornberry CMG, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UNITED KINGDOM ST5 5BG

Re: Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Issues and CERD: Dear Professor Thornberry: I was privileged to be in the audience on 22 February 2008 when you had a closing discussion with the United States Mission to the United Nations on the U.S. periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You specifically asked that the United States mention the status of Big Mountain and Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute issues in its next periodic report to CERD. It is due on 20 November of this year.

I am the attorney for The Forgotten People, a non-governmental organization that serves the Navajo survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, including individuals who still live on Hopi lands on Black Mesa. One of the issues they face is getting potable water, and it must be hauled to homes by truck. The dirt roads in the area are poor and require frequent maintenance. The Forgotten People has projects with attempts to obtain funding and logistical support so it can get water carried to people in affected areas in the western part of the Navajo Nation. That includes those who live in areas where the ground water is contaminated with uranium waste from mining and remote communities of Navajos without water who are ignored by both the Navajo and the Hopi tribes.

The specific problem I write about is that The Forgotten People announced a meeting to be held at the residence of Pauline White singer at Big Mountain within the area partitioned to the Hopi Tribe on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. to “discuss a request for safe drinking water delivery and impassable dirt road repair.” The purpose of the meeting is to ask for assistance from the Navajo and Hopi tribes to get water hauled to homes at Big Mountain and to get the roads in and out of the area graded.

The news of the meeting came to the attention of Mr. LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, the Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, and on August 19, 2011 he wrote to Marsha Monestersky and Ed Becenti of The Forgotten People to inform them, among other things, that “the meeting would be in violation of the Hopi Tribe’s rules and regulations.” He added that Ms. Monestersky is the subject of an order excluding her from the Hopi Reservation (because of her advocacy for Navajo rights). He also noted that one had requested a permit to hold a meeting, when permits are not required by Hopi law and are prohibited by the Indian Civil Rights Act.

We have a situation where the chief executive of the Hopi Tribe, on learning of a meeting to discuss access to water as a human right and to petition for road repairs, has prohibited the meeting in violation of freedom of speech and assembly and the right to petition government provisions of the federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

I have been asked to bring this situation to your attention and to additionally advise that there are recurring problems of violations of the rights of the refugees of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

They include a Navajo-Hopi compact that violates individual rights and a situation whereby monies and resources held in trust by the Navajo Nation for the benefit of survivors of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute are unaccounted for and likely wasted. I will bring those matters to your attention and that of CERD as the time for the filing of the next United States CERD periodic report approaches.

I therefore bring these facts to your attention so that you will know that your February 2008 request for new information was prescient in its assessment of emerging events.

Your attention to these matters and communication to the full Committee will be appreciated. A copy of the August 19, 2011 letter signed for Chairman Shingoitewa is enclosed.

Sincerely,
James W. Zion

TEXT OF HOPI TRIBE’S LETTER TO MS. MARSHA MONESTERSKY AND MR. ED BECENTI

LeRoy N. Shingoitewa
Chairman HOPI TRIBE
August 19, 2011
Herman G. Honanie
Vice Chairman

Ms. Marsha Monestersky, Program Director
Mr. Ed Becenti
The Forgotten People
Tuba City, Arizona 86045

Dear Ms. Monestersky & Mr. Ed Becenti:

It has come to my attention and the attention of the Hopi Tribal Council that you intend to hold a meeting for the HPL Navajo families on Monday, August 22, 2011, to “discuss a request for safe drinking water delivery and impassable dirt road repair,” as quoted directly from your press release. As we understand your press release, the meeting will take place on HPL, at Pauline Whitesinger’s residence in Big Mountain and will be led by Ms. Marsha Monestersky, Program Director of the Forgotten People. You have requested Hopi Tribal officials participation, as well as other directors and executive officers from the Navajo and Hopi Nations.

At this time, the Hopi Tribe will not be supporting or attending the meeting. To begin, the issues being raised – water and transportation issues – are Government-to-Government issues. Thus, a request for this type ofmeeting must come from the Navajo Nation, not the “Forgotten People.” Additionally, you should be advised that no one has requested a permit from the Hopi Nation to hold this event. As such, the meeting would be in violation of the Hopi Tribe’s rules and regulations. Finally, there is a valid and binding exclusion order for Ms. Monestersky. Thus, Ms. Monestersky is not welcome on Hopi land. Her attendance would clearly violate her exclusion order, which is currently in force.

I hope the above clarifies the Hopi Tribe’s position and we respectfully request that you abide by all Hopi rules, regulation and orders. If you have any questions regarding the Hopi Tribe’s response, please contact Mr. Clayton Honyumptewa, Director, Department of Natural Resources at (928) 734-3641 or my office at (928) 734-3100.

Sincerely,
LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, Chairman
The Hopi Tribe
P.O. BOX 123 KYKOTSMOVI. AZ.. 86039
(928) 734-3000

Ltr. to Monestersky & Becenti
RE: Hopi Tribal Resp.
08119/11

xc. Vice Chairman Honanie
Clayton Honyumptewa, DNR
Robert Lyttle, Interim Gen. Counsel
Norberto Cisneros, Asst. Gen. Counsel
Hon. President Ben Shelley NN
Raymond Maxx, NHLCO, NN

6/28/2011 Navajo Boy moves Congress and Mountains

Dear Forgotten Navajo People, Check out our latest Navajo video dispatch from Monument Valley. It shows the US EPA’s cleanup in full swing. Groundswell correspondent Mary Begay follows US EPA project manager Jason Musante behind the scenes. “”This example and this project show that someone in Congress learned of the problem here and said go do that,” Musante says. “Now what’s been a really good way to bring that message forward is the documentary Navajo Boy.” Groundswell continues to publicize the story through: Webisodes, shot on flip cameras by Navajo participants and edited by Groundswell — view the whole series at navajoboy.com/webisodes. Generating media coverage for the issue (see headlines below) And creating opportunities to screen the film and for Navajos to tell their story. “>

In August, Mary Begay, who shot this webisode, and Jeff Spitz, producer of The Return of Navajo Boy will keynote The Tribal Lands Forum, a national conference for tribal environmental professionals. Their keynote will focus on cross-cultural media, advocacy and environmental justice. Check our website for a listing of other presentations or to book a screening of your own.

— Jeff & Jennifer
Groundswell Co-Founders

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