Tag Archives: Us Epa Superfund

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.”

10/4/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set

10/4/2011 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.

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.

Vote for Forgotten People Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping

Vote for Forgotten People Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping: About the submission: The online map developed in this project uses data from the EPA 2007 Abandon Uranium Mines and the Navajo Nation: Atlas with Geospatial Data to give citizens access to basic information on unregulated water sources and abandoned uranium mine features. The map also provides citizens with the basic tools to visulize the spatial elements of potential environmental hazards.

Environmental Justice is a relatively new field for environmental advocacy. One the many attributes that is illustrative of environmental injustice is proximity to pollution. Developments in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the gathering of spatial data have furthered the implications of environmental justice. The GIS technical expertise is not always available to grassroots organizations and thus the spatial nexus is sometimes missing in the struggle for justice. This project was designed to assist the Navajo grassroots organization The Forgotten People in both policy development and participatory mapping.

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

###

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

Vote for Western Washington University-Forgotten People Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping

Environmental Justice Participatory Mapping Vote for Western Washington University Forgotten People mapping Project About the submission: The online map developed in this project uses data from the EPA 2007 Abandon Uranium Mines and the Navajo Nation: Atlas with Geospatial Data to give citizens access to basic information on unregulated water sources and abandoned uranium mine features. The map also provides citizens with the basic tools to visulize the spatial elements of potential environmental hazards.

Environmental Justice is a relatively new field for environmental advocacy. One the many attributes that is illustrative of environmental injustice is proximity to pollution. Developments in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the gathering of spatial data have furthered the implications of environmental justice. The GIS technical expertise is not always available to grassroots organizations and thus the spatial nexus is sometimes missing in the struggle for justice. This project was designed to assist the Navajo grassroots organization The Forgotten People in both policy development and participatory mapping.

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?”

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting at Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, Tuba City, Navajo Nation, AZ

http://www.scribd.com/doc/53575784 Please spread the word and put Saturday, 5/14/2011 on your calendar for a US EPA Superfund Meeting at Moenkopi Legacy Inn, & Suites, Tuba City, Navajo Nation, AZ. The US EPA Superfund will discuss the status of ongoing abandoned uranium mine screenings Navajo Nation wide and in the western Agency and safe drinking water concerns. Newspaper ads and PSA’s will be broadcast.
5 14 2011 US EPA Superfund Meeting Flyer
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