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(last updated 12 Feb 2021)

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Navajo Nation

> Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation (U.S. EPA Region 9)

 

EPA awards contracts for cleanup of more than 50 abandoned uranium mines at Navajo Nation area

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced three contract awards for cleanup efforts at more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites in and around the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Area Abandoned Mine Remedial Construction and Services Contracts (AMRCS), worth up to $220 million over the next five years, were awarded to Red Rock Remediation Joint Venture, Environmental Quality Management Inc. and Arrowhead Contracting Inc.
Most of the funding for the contracts comes from the nearly $1 billion settlement reached in 2015 for the cleanup of more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites for which Kerr McGee Corporation and its successor, Tronox, have responsibility. In addition to the funds from that Tronox settlement, EPA and Navajo Nation have secured funding agreements, through enforcement agreements and other legal settlements, for the assessment and cleanup of approximately 200 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Nation.
Work is slated to begin later this year following the completion of assessments in coordination with Navajo Nation's environmental agency, the Navajo Nation EPA. The sites are in New Mexico's Grants Mining District and ten Navajo Nation chapters. (EPA Feb. 11, 2021)

Monitoring of uranium mill tailings sites on Navajo land suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic

Due to travel rectrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, LM will not conduct annual and semiannual monitoring events at the Monument Valley, Arizona, Processing Site; the Shiprock, New Mexico, Disposal Site; and the Tuba City, Arizona, Disposal Site during the remainder of 2020. (DOE LM letter to NRC, Nov. 3, 2020)

EPA adds Navajo Abandoned Uranium Mines to Administrator's Superfund Emphasis List

Today's update includes: [...]Adding the Abandoned Uranium Mines contamination in the Navajo Nation to the Administrator's Emphasis List to finalize the Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation Ten-Year Plan. EPA intends to use placement on the Administrator's Emphasis List to focus attention on completion of development and finalization of the Ten-Year Plan. This plan will build on the previous plans, make adjustments based on lessons learned, and identify those next steps necessary to address the human and environmental risks associated with uranium contamination. (EPA Apr. 15, 2020)
> View: Administrator's Emphasis List (EPA)

Navajo and federal officials finalize agreement on cleanup of 24 priority abandoned uranium mines

Officials with the Navajo Nation and federal government finalized an agreement last week in the ongoing effort to clean up hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the reservation.
The settlement will provide funding and resources to clean up two-dozen priority sites in the Navajo Nation communities of Blue Gap and Black Mesa, among others. Officials say they pose some of the biggest public health threats out of the more than 500 abandoned uranium mines in the area, and estimate the cleanup along with a water study near Four Corners will cost more than $16.7 million.
The agreement is the second phase of a settlement reached five years ago between the tribe and the Justice Department. It's thought the total cleanup costs could reach several billion dollars and take decades to complete. (KNAU Feb. 20, 2020)

Navajo community unhappy with EPA's plan for relocation during proposed reclamation work at Church Rock uranium mill tailings deposit (New Mexico)

> View here

Study finds uranium in Navajo women, babies

About a quarter of Navajo women and some infants who were part of a federally funded study on uranium exposure had high levels of the radioactive metal in their systems, decades after mining for Cold War weaponry ended on their reservation, a U.S. health official [said] Monday (Oct. 7).
The early findings from the University of New Mexico study were shared during a congressional field hearing in Albuquerque. Dr. Loretta Christensen -- the chief medical officer on the Navajo Nation for Indian Health Service, a partner in the research -- said 781 women were screened during an initial phase of the study that ended last year.
Among them, 26% had concentrations of uranium that exceeded levels found in the highest 5% of the U.S. population, and newborns with equally high concentrations continued to be exposed to uranium during their first year, she said. (AP Oct. 8, 2019)

Navajo sign national research agreement for study on effects of environmental exposure to uranium on babies

The Navajo Nation has signed the first tribal data-sharing agreement for nationwide research. The agreement allows for Johns Hopkins University and other researchers to build a large-scale database. That research is part of a National Institutes of Health project studying the environmental influences on child health outcomes throughout the country. Led by the University of New Mexico, the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is investigating the effects of the environmental exposure to uranium on babies currently being born. While the tribe is not ready to share genetic data or biospecimens, the agreement allows researchers to continue to study the health impacts of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. (Fronteras May 8, 2019)
> View NIH release May 7, 2019

EPA funds study on impacts of abandoned uranium mines on air quality in Cove, Arizona

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency $89,260 to study whether abandoned uranium mines are affecting air quality in the Cove, Arizona, area.
Navajo community members have raised concerns about winds potentially transporting dust with radionuclides during the long-term cleanup efforts by EPA and Navajo Nation EPA. This study will sample airborne particulate matter, or dust, for a variety of elements including uranium, arsenic and lead. The study will also look for airborne radionuclides, including isotopes of thorium and radium. (EPA Region 9, Apr. 24, 2019)

EPA to award $220 million for uranium mine cleanup on Navajo Nation

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to award multiple contracts worth an estimated $220 million over a five-year period to address the legacy of uranium contamination from abandoned mines in the Navajo Nation area. The Navajo Area Abandoned Mines Response and Construction Services (AMRCS) contract, which is currently open for proposals exclusively from small businesses, will provide cleanup, response, and construction services to EPA at and near former uranium mine sites in the Navajo and Grants, New Mexico Mining District areas. (United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Apr. 17, 2019)

EPA releases Assessment Report on water contamination at abandoned uranium mine sites in Cove area, Arizona (Navajo Nation)

"[...] Present uranium and other COCs (constituents of concern) exceed human and ecological risk-based screening levels designed to identify chemical-specific concentrations that may warrant further investigation or cleanup on the basis of a probability of one in a million to one in ten thousand excess cancer or noncancerous incidence in a population. Human health exposure pathways considered include drinking water, consumption of livestock that utilize the water, use of water for agriculture and secondary human contact. [...]"
> Download: FINAL ASSESSMENT REPORT, Cove Wash Watershed Assessment Site, Navajo Nation, Cove Chapter, Arizona, April 2018 (22.7MB PDF)

Office of Inspector General urges EPA to continue evaluations and to develop prioritization strategy for cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation

> Download Report: EPA Needs to Finish Prioritization and Resource Allocation Methodologies for Abandoned Uranium Mine Sites on or Near Navajo Lands , August 22, 2018

EPA settles with EnPro Holdings Inc. for assessment costs at eight abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation, near Cameron and Tuba City (Arizona)

Today (Jan. 8, 2018), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or the Superfund Law) worth $500,000 with EnPro Holdings, Inc. to assess eight abandoned uranium mines located on the Navajo Nation, near Cameron and Tuba City, Arizona.
The eight abandoned uranium mines were originally operated by the A&B Mining Corporation in the 1950s.  A+B Mining Corporation's operations contributed to the contamination at these eight sites and made them liable for the cleanup under CERCLA. Through a series of mergers between 1959 and 2016, EnPro Industries became the corporate successor to A&B Mining Corporation. (EPA Region 09, Jan. 8, 2018)

EPA's OIG to review agency's work on cleanup of abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo Nation

A federal watchdog says it will review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to clean up abandoned uranium sites on the Navajo Nation. The EPA received funding in 2015 from a $1 billion settlement to address 50 sites in northeastern Arizona. The sites were run by Kerr McGee Corp., later acquired by Anadarko Petroleum Corp.
The EPA's Office of Inspector General says it wants to determine whether the EPA is prioritizing sites that present the greatest threats. Reviews generally take 18 months. (AP Nov. 24, 2017)
> View EPA OIG release Nov. 16, 2017 (Project Number OPE-FY17-0023)

EPA awards contract to assess contamination at 30 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation

A California company has been awarded an $85 million contract to assess uranium contamination on and near the Navajo Nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the contract Wednesday (Oct. 11) to Tetra Tech Inc., headquartered in Pasadena. The EPA says the company will assess 30 abandoned mines on the vast reservation where uranium was extracted for wartime weapons.
Tetra Tech will work with Navajo Technical University to train Navajos on how to assess and clean up uranium waste. The company also will start an internship program to give students technical work experience. The contract is partially funded by a 2015 settlement for the cleanup of over 50 abandoned uranium mines. The settlement resolved a legal battle over a spinoff of Kerr-McGee Corp., which once operated mines on the Navajo Nation. (Fresno Bee Oct. 11, 2017)

EPA announces agreement on cleanup of abandoned Haystack uranium mines

On May 22, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with BNSF Railway Company to begin cleanup at the Haystack Mines Site, a group of three abandoned uranium mines near Prewitt, New Mexico and the Baca/Prewitt chapter, on Navajo Nation.
The mines site operated from 1952 to 1981 and produced 400,000 tons of uranium ore. Today, the 174-acre area is being used for livestock grazing and includes one residence with some additional homes nearby. The work is expected to begin in July and last for four months. Under the agreement, BNSF Railway Company will conduct the following actions: (EPA Region 09, May 22, 2017)

EPA announces development of cleanup options for Mariano Lake and Ruby Mines on Navajo Nation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced separate agreements with Chevron U.S.A., Inc. and Western Nuclear, Inc. to develop cleanup options for uranium mine waste at the Mariano Lake and Ruby Mines on the Navajo Nation. The work is estimated to cost approximately $300,000 for each of the two mines.
Today's settlements continue the work needed to clean up radium-contaminated soil at the two mines located east of Gallup, N.M. Chevron completed an investigation of the hazardous waste at the Mariano Lake Mine Site under a 2011 agreement with EPA. Western Nuclear completed a similar investigation at the Ruby Mines Site under a 2013 agreement.
Having concluded investigations at their respective mine sites, both companies will now develop a list of possible cleanup options, analyzing their feasibility in an Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis report. (EPA Region 09, Feb. 9, 2017)

Settlement announced for cleanup of another 94 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation

The United States and the Navajo Nation have entered into a settlement agreement with two affiliated subsidiaries of Freeport-McMoRan, Inc, for the cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Under the settlement, valued at over $600 million, Cyprus Amax Minerals Company and Western Nuclear, Inc., will perform the work and the United States will contribute approximately half of the costs. The settlement terms are outlined in a proposed consent decree filed today in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona. With this settlement, funds are now committed to begin the cleanup process at over 200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona , is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
> Submit comments by February 23, 2017.
> Federal Register Volume 82, Number 14 (Tuesday, January 24, 2017) p. 8211 (download full text )
> View DOJ release Jan. 17, 2017
> Download related DOJ documents (Case Number: CV17-00140-PHX-MHB, Case Title: United States of America v. Cyprus Amax Minerals Company, et al.)

EPA announces contract opportunities worth $85 million in preparation for Navajo Nation uranium mine cleanup work

On Aug. 31, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a Request for Proposals for the Navajo Area Uranium Mines Response, Assessment, and Evaluation Services contract.  This RFP, with an estimated value of $85 million, is a solicitation for firms capable of performing the work to submit proposals. Specifically, EPA is seeking expertise in environmental assessment services related to uranium mines, as well as expertise in working with tribes and communities. EPA anticipates awarding this contract in spring 2017.
In addition, EPA is issuing a Request for Information/Sources Sought for the potential Navajo Area Abandoned Mines Response and Construction Services procurement.
> View EPA Region 9 release , Aug. 31, 2016

Navajos reach another settlement on uranium mine cleanup

The federal government has reached another settlement with the Navajo Nation that will clear the way for cleanup work to continue at abandoned uranium mines across the largest American Indian reservation in the U.S.
The target includes 46 sites that have been identified as priorities due to radiation levels, their proximity to people and the threat of contamination spreading. Cleanup is supposed to be done at 16 abandoned mines while evaluations are planned for another 30 sites and studies will be done at two more to see if water supplies have been compromised.
The agreement announced by the U.S. Justice Department settles the tribe's claims over the costs of engineering evaluations and cleanups at the mines. The federal government has already spent $100 million to address abandoned mines on Navajo lands and a separate settlement reached with DOJ last year was worth more than $13 million. However, estimates for the future costs for cleanup at priority sites stretch into the hundreds of millions of dollars. (Deseret News Aug. 23, 2016)

U.S. to pay cleanup of 16 abandoned uranium mines and cleanup evaluation of 30 more on Navajo land

"Today, in a settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation, the United States agreed to provide funding necessary to continue clean-up work at abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Specifically, the United States will fund environmental response trusts to clean up 16 priority abandoned uranium mines located across the Navajo Nation. The agreement also provides for evaluations of 30 more abandoned uranium mines, and for studies of two abandoned uranium mines to determine if groundwater or surface waters have been affected by those mines. [...] The United States previously provided funding for evaluations at the 16 priority mines in a 'Phase 1' settlement executed in 2015."
> View DOJ release July 15, 2016

U.S. EPA settles with El Paso Natural Gas for some cleanup costs at abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation, near Cameron (Arizona)

On Nov. 23, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced a settlement worth more than $500,000 with El Paso Natural Gas Company LLC, (EPNG) to reimburse government costs related to 19 abandoned uranium mines located on the Navajo Nation, near Cameron, Arizona.
Under the settlement terms, EPNG will reimburse the U.S. EPA $502,500, based on its share of field investigations of historical uranium contamination. EPNG, owned by Kinder Morgan, Inc., is a corporate successor to two mining companies that operated in the area from 1952 to 1961.
Mine waste has been exposed for decades at the Cameron abandoned uranium mines, located close to the Little Colorado River. EPA's field surveys found the soil was contaminated by radioactive uranium and radium, two substances known to cause cancer. Land and water resources may be impaired by this waste material.
The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court in the District of Arizona and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Submit comments by December 29, 2015.
> Federal Register Volume 80, Number 229 (Monday, November 30, 2015) p. 74811 (download full text )
> Download: proposed consent decree El Paso Natural Gas Co., L.L.C. v. U.S. (U.S. DOJ)
> See also: Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation (EPA Region 9)

> See also: U.S. EPA orders some risk assessment and decommissioning work at abandoned uranium mines in Cameron and Smith Lake Chapters in the Navajo Nation

Contaminants in abandoned uranium mine waste in the Blue Gap/Tachee Chapter of the Navajo Nation can be released rapidly, presenting a hazard to residents, study (Arizona)

Elevated Concentrations of U and Co-occurring Metals in Abandoned Mine Wastes in a Northeastern Arizona Native American Community , by J. M. Blake, S. Avasarala, K. Artyushkova, et al., in: Environmental Science & Technology, 2015, Vol. 49, No. 14, pp. 8506–8514 (open access)

U.S. to pay cleanup evaluation of 16 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land

The U.S. government will put $13.2 million into an environmental trust to pay for evaluations of 16 abandoned uranium mines on land belonging to the Navajo Nation in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the Justice Department said on Friday (May 1). "The site evaluations focus on the mines that pose the most significant hazards and will form a foundation for their final cleanup," Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in the statement. (Reuters May 2, 2015)
> View DOJ release May 1, 2015

Federal Agencies release second Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation

In January 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Indian Health Service (IHS), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), in consultation with the Navajo Nation, completed a Five-year effort to address uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation. The effort focused on the most imminent risks to people living on the Navajo Nation. While the last five years represent a significant start in addressing the legacy of uranium mining, much work remains and the same federal agencies have collaborated to issue a second Five-Year Plan.
> Download: Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation 2014 (1.3MB PDF - EPA)

Investigations demonstrate need for cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in the Tachee/Blue Gap and Black Mesa Chapters, Navajo Nation, Arizona

"Recent field investigations by the UNM METALS Research Center in Tachee/Blue Gap Chapter found that these abandoned uranium mines associated with the Claim 28 complex -- Mines #78 and #79 -- meet the Navajo Nation's criteria as priority sites. The closest points on the mines are 0.25 miles from the nearest occupied residences, and gamma radiation rates equal to or greater than 10 times local background rates are prevalent on these mine sites. Furthermore, XPS and XRF analyses at UNM show the presence of hazardous substances -- U, V and As -- in mine wastes in concentrations far exceeding both their respective crustal averages and local background in non-impacted soils. The mine wastes also appear to be enriched in Fe and Al compared with non-impacted soils. Preliminary SEM analyses indicate the wastes contain uranium-vanadium compounds on fine-grained particles that are vulnerable to re-suspension in windy conditions, posing a potential inhalation risk. A water sample from Waterfall Spring had a uranium concentration 2.3 times higher than the federal and tribal drinking water standard, confirming the result of a 1998 test by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
> Download: Uranium in Soil, Mine Waste and Spring Water near Abandoned Uranium Mines, Tachee/Blue Gap and Black Mesa Chapters, Navajo Nation, Arizona , by Chris Shuey, Wm. Paul Robinson, et al., March 31, 2014 (495kB PDF - SRIC)

EPA orders very first phase of cleanup work at four abandoned uranium mines in the Mariano Lake and Smith Lake areas on the Navajo Nation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with Homestake Mining Company of California requiring the company to assess contamination and address safety hazards at four abandoned uranium mines in the Mariano Lake and Smith Lake areas on the Navajo Nation. The EPA and the Navajo Nation will oversee the work.
Over the next several months, Homestake will conduct extensive radiation surveys of the mine sites to assess risks, backfill open holes and mitigate surface features that pose physical threats to people or animals. The company will also post bilingual (English/Navajo) warning signs around the mine sites and sample surface and subsurface soils in the areas around the mines. This work is the first phase of cleaning up the uranium contamination at the four mine sites, and is expected to be completed by fall 2015. (EPA Aug. 28, 2014)

Not all targets met for federal agencies' uranium clean-up on Navajo Reservation, GAO report

Several federal agencies met most of their targets in a five-year plan to clean up certain abandoned uranium mines and uranium processing sites on the Navajo reservation, a Government Accountability Office report released May 5 said.
The agencies didn't, however, finish cleaning up the former Northeast Church Rock uranium mine northeast of Gallup, N.M. or the Tuba City Dump, a former unregulated landfill in Tuba City, Ariz., in part due to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' contractor issues, the report said. Both sites are listed on the EPA Region 9's Superfund site. The agencies are working on a new five-year plan, the report said.
The accountability office recommended all agencies estimate necessary time, costs and actions to completely address uranium contamination issues at the Navajo reservation, a task the Energy Department said would be difficult due to several uncertainties, including uncertainty about the extent of the contamination. The office also recommended Congress require the EPA take the lead in developing these estimates. (Bloomberg May 6, 2014)
> View GAO release May 5, 2014
> Download GAO Report: URANIUM CONTAMINATION - Overall Scope, Time Frame, and Cost Information Is Needed for Contamination Cleanup on the Navajo Reservation, Report to Congressional Requesters, May 2014, GAO-14-323 (3.7MB PDF)

Navajo Nation to get more than US$ 1 billion in settlement to clean up abandoned uranium mines, radioactive waste

The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday (Apr. 3) that a $5.15 billion settlement has been reached over fraudulent conveyance claims against Kerr-McGee Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. More than $1 billion of the settlement will be directed to the Navajo Nation.
In December, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper of the Southern District of New York issued a decision after a 34-day trial. Gropper's decision stated Anadarko was liable for billions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs, including at uranium mines and mills that were once operated on the Navajo Nation by Kerr-McGee. During the 1950s and 1960s, Kerr-McGee operated uranium mines on the reservation, including in the Cove and Red Valley chapters in Arizona and on the Quivira mining site in Church Rock, N.M.
Under the settlement, about $985 million will be paid to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund clean up of about 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the reservation, according to a release from the Department of Justice. In addition to that, the tribe will receive more than $43 million to address radioactive waste left at the former Kerr-McGee uranium mill in Shiprock.
Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency in Window Rock, Ariz., called the settlement "historic," even though he added that it still needs the court's approval. (Farmington Daily Times Apr. 3, 2014)
> View DOJ release Apr. 3, 2014
> Download: Tronox bankruptcy settlement - sites and recoveries for cleanup costs (26k PDF - DOJ)
> See also: Settlement gives US$ 179 million to clean up abandoned Riley Pass uranium mine (South Dakota)

Anadarko Petroleum Corp's agreement to pay $5.15 billion to clean up nuclear fuel and other pollution received approval from a federal judge on Monday (Nov. 10), the final hurdle for the settlement touted by the U.S. Department of Justice as the largest-ever environmental cleanup recovery. (Reuters Nov. 10, 2014)

Department of Justice invites comment on proposed settlement agreement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. on cleanup of contaminated sites:
Submit comments by May 14, 2014.
> Federal Register Volume 79, Number 71 (Monday, April 14, 2014) p. 20910-20911 (download full text )
> Download Proposed Consent Decree In Re: Tronox, Inc.

Anadarko's $5 billion pollution settlement wins approval: Anadarko Petroleum Corp.'s agreement to pay $5.15 billion for pollution cleanup across the U.S. was approved over objections from people who said their illnesses won't be properly compensated. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan L. Gropper in Manhattan today approved the settlement, which the federal government called the largest of its kind. Under the deal, Anadarko's Kerr-McGee unit will pay 88 percent of the money to the U.S. and 12 percent to people with personal-injury claims. Gropper is sending his recommendation to a district court, where the settlement also needs to be reviewed. (Bloomberg May 28, 2014)

Court decision could help Navajo to get funding for uranium cleanup

A court decision in a bankruptcy case could result in more than $1 billion for the Navajo Nation to help it clean up uranium contamination.
Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie said the Navajo have prevailed in their claims against Anadarko Petroleum and Kerr-McGee Corporation involving former uranium mines and a uranium processing site. The sites were located in Cove, Ariz. in the far northeastern corner of the state, and Shiprock, NM. in the far northwestern corner of that state.
The decision is being appealed. (KJZZ Dec. 17, 2013)

U.S. DOE issues Communications and Outreach Plan for the Navajo Nation Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act sites

> Download: Communications and Outreach Plan for the Navajo Nation Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act Sites, LMS/S09372 , U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management, November 2013 (1.5MB PDF)

U.S. EPA orders some risk assessment and decommissioning work at abandoned uranium mines in Cameron and Smith Lake Chapters in the Navajo Nation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered El Paso Natural Gas and Western Nuclear, Inc. to begin work to investigate potential risks at abandoned uranium mine sites in Cameron and Smith Lake Chapters in the Navajo Nation. The work will be conducted under separate orders, with oversight by EPA and Navajo EPA.
El Paso Natural Gas will work in the Cameron Chapter to assess 24 mine sites for radiation contamination. While the assessment work will begin in Spring 2014, fencing and signs will be placed around some sites this fall.
Western Nuclear, Inc. will begin work in mid-September at the Ruby Mines in Smith Lake Chapter to close two mine entry points or adits, and close two vent holes. The company will also conduct an assessment to determine the work necessary to remove radiation contaminated soils from the mine areas and washes, arroyos, and roads near the mine. (EPA Sep. 12, 2013)

U.S. EPA gives Navajo Nation $3 million grant for cleanup of uranium-contaminated homes

Last week, the Navajo Nation Council Nabi committee passed legislation to accept a $3 million grant from the U.S. EPA to fix and demolish uranium contaminated homes on the reservation. According to a press release from the speakers office, contaminated homes can be found a quarter mile from the abandoned mines. (Navajo Post Mar. 11, 2013)

Agencies cite progress, but greater part of work still remaining on Navajo uranium cleanup

A consortium of federal and tribal agencies reported Thursday (Jan. 24) that a five-year, $110 million project to clean up uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation had addressed the most urgent risks there. But the report also said that in the last five years the agencies have learned much more "about the scope of the problem and it is clear that additional work will be needed." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Energy and Indian Health Service joined forces in October 2007 to tackle the widespread uranium contamination on Navajo lands left over from the nation’s atomic weapon production programs.
Among their accomplishments, the agencies reported that they have cleaned up nine abandoned uranium mines, rebuilt 34 homes and replaced contaminated soil at 18 sites, many near homes. The agencies also assessed the status of 520 mines, 240 water sources and 800 homes and public structures, exceeding goals set in the five-year plan, the report said. It added that officials shut down three contaminated wells and hauled clean water to affected areas of the Navajo Nation or started projects to pipe in water.
But critics said the government has only begun to scratch the surface of the problem. Chris Shuey, an environmental and health scientist at the Southwest Research and Information Center , said the EPA has not made progress on cleaning up any of the 520 identified abandoned mines. Shuey, whose organization aids in nuclear waste management and uranium mining reclamation, said that the toxic materials need to be moved to a facility far from peoples' homes, which is not happening now. "There is a widespread cynicism that nothing is really going to be done to clean up these mines," said Shuey, who has work with Navajo on this project. But Shuey acknowledged that the agencies' success in identifying the mines and affected water sources is a huge step in the right direction, and that replacing contaminated structures does benefit the people. (Cronkite News Jan. 24, 2013)
> Download: Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation, Five-Year Plan Summary Report , January 2013 (7.8MB PDF - EPA Region 9)

Cleanup at three abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land begins

This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is beginning three uranium mine clean up actions on the Navajo Nation. The work, expected to cost $7.15 million, is part of the EPA's five year plan to address uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation and is being done in partnership with the Navajo Nation's Environmental Protection Agency. Funding for all three actions is from responsible parties, rather than the Superfund trust fund. The EPA expects to complete the cleanups by November.
  1. The first cleanup in the Cove, Arizona, area is expected to cost $1.5 million and take four to six weeks. Uranium mining in Cove Chapter, which lasted from the 1940s to the 1980s, included two transfer stations where uranium-bearing ore from the mines was stockpiled before trucks took the ore to the Shiprock Mill for processing. The transfer stations still contain some leftover uranium-tainted ore. EPA will remove the contaminated soil at Cove from one transfer station to another, where it will be sealed and stabilized. The area will be fenced and warning signs will be posted until a permanent disposal site can be selected.
  2. Near Casamero Lake, New Mexico, EPA will clean up contaminated soil left by the Section 32 Mine. That cleanup will cost an estimated $1.65 million and will include consolidating scattered contaminated soils on the main mine waste pile. Once that process is completed, the contaminated soils will be secured using a soil sealant, or temporary clean soil cover. The site will also be fenced until a final disposal decision is reached.
  3. near Northeast Church Rock and Quivira Mines, New Mexico
(EPA Region 9, Sep. 18, 2012)

Little progress still with cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land

A hearing in 2007 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led to a multiagency effort to assess and clean up hundreds of structures on the reservation through a five-year plan that ends this year.
Yet while some mines have been "surgically scraped" of contamination and are impressive showpieces for the EPA, others, like the Cameron site (Arizona), are still contaminated. Officials at the EPA and the Energy Department attribute the delay to the complexity of prioritizing mine sites. Some say it is also about politics and money. "'The government can't afford it; that's a big reason why it hasn't stepped in and done more," said Bob Darr, a spokesman for the Energy Department. "The contamination problem is vast."
To date, the EPA, the Energy Department and other agencies have evaluated 683 mine sites on the land and have selected 34 structures and 12 residential yards for remediation. The EPA alone has spent $60 million on assessment and cleanup. Cleaning up all the mines would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Clancy Tenley, a senior EPA official who oversees the uranium legacy program for the agency in the Southwest. (San Francisco Chronicle Apr. 22, 2012)

 

CDC Prospective Birth Cohort Study in Navajo Nation

Prospective Birth Cohort Study in Navajo Nation stalled for funding issues: A planned study of Navajo Nation mothers and children affected by uranium is ready to begin, but has been stalled by red tape, Nation officials say. The U.S. and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection agencies are waiting for the go-ahead on a project that was slated to begin last year. The problem is federal funding. (Farmington Daily Times Feb. 3, 2013)

CDC plans "Prospective Birth Cohort Study Involving Environmental Uranium Exposure in the Navajo Nation": The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans a "Prospective Birth Cohort Study Involving Environmental Uranium Exposure in the Navajo Nation". Comments are invited on the data collection plans and instruments.
Written comments should be received within 60 days of this notice.
> Federal Register Volume 76, Number 225 (Tuesday, November 22, 2011) p. 72206-72207 (download full text )

 

Cleanup of abandoned Skyline uranium mine (Utah)

> View here

Settlement provides some funds for assessments of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land

Federal and Navajo officials say that $14.5 million from a bankruptcy settlement with a chemical company will help address contamination at dozens of uranium mine sites on the reservation. The money is part of a $270 million nationwide settlement announced last month with Tronox Inc. , an Oklahoma City-based company that sought bankruptcy protection last year to reorganize its operations and alleviate environmental liabilities and litigation costs.
While the money going to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation won't be nearly enough to clean up about 50 sites, it will provide for assessments and radiation screenings to determine the extent of any contamination. The majority of the $14.5 million will go to the EPA to address the Quivira Mine near Church Rock, N.M. - one of the highest priorities for cleanup among some 500 abandoned uranium mines on the vast Navajo Nation - and 49 other mines scattered in the northern and eastern parts of the reservation. The Navajo Nation will get $1.2 million to address environmental compliance at a former uranium milling site near Shiprock, N.M., where the groundwater is contaminated.
The settlement is subject to a public comment period. The settlement documents also are available for review in the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock until Jan. 2. Each of the Navajo sites covered under the settlement are connected to Kerr-McGee Corp., the former parent company of Tronox and one of a handful of companies that produced much of the uranium on the Navajo Nation. Tronox sued Kerr-McGee and Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. , which bought Kerr-McGee for $18 million five months after Tronox was spun off. (AP Dec. 8, 2010)

> View Tronox Incorporated Bankruptcy Settlement (U.S. EPA)

University of New Mexico studies uranium exposure in Navajo mothers and infants

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry , a division of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has announced its cooperative agreement with the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center for a $1 million a year, three-year study on pregnancy outcomes and child development in relation to uranium exposure among Navajo mothers and infants living on the Navajo Nation.
Dr. Johnnye Lewis, director of the Community Environmental Health Program at the UNM Health Sciences Center, and her research team will work with the ATSDR, Indian Health Service, Navajo communities, and other federal and Navajo agencies to enroll 1,650 pregnant women to be assessed during pregnancy and child birth. Infants will be assessed at birth, and for growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes up to 12 months of age. The study will also focus on building the infrastructure for longer-term follow-up of this cohort.
Uranium exposure on the Navajo Nation are a concern because of abandoned uranium mines and mills. There are 1,100 abandoned mines, mills and associated waste piles scattered throughout the area, which includes northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Past research has identified uranium exposure as a possible contributor to several health conditions among the Navajo population, such as kidney disease. For these studies, only Navajo adults have been assessed. This will be the first study to observe pregnant women and their newborns.
The UNM Research team will include collaborators from the Southwest Research and Information Center as well as several Navajo community researchers. (University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center News Release Aug. 26, 2010)

U.S. EPA settlements require investigation of uranium contamination on Southwestern tribal lands

This week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency entered into two enforcement actions, both of which will contribute towards cleaning up uranium contamination at the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation.
In one settlement, Rio Algom Mining LLC, a subsidiary of Canadian corporation BHP Billiton, has agreed to control releases of radium (a decay product of uranium) from the Quivira Mine Site, near Gallup, N.M. In addition, the company is to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the levels of contamination at the site. The total cost for this work is estimated to be approximately $1 million.
Under the terms of a separate settlement, the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), will begin a comprehensive investigation of the levels of uranium and other contaminants in the waste, soils and groundwater at the Tuba City Dump Site in Arizona. They will also evaluate the feasibility of a range of cleanup actions. (U.S. EPA Sep 13, 2010)

Leaking Tuba City dump finally getting federal attention

A dump near Tuba City that has been leaching low levels of radioactive waste into the shallow aquifer finally is getting some federal attention, if not an actual cleanup yet. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to fence off a remaining section of an old dump, near two Hopi villages, and test for hot spots of radioactivity close by. This includes one area where the agency says uranium levels in the water exceed what's federally considered safe for drinking water by eight times. Uranium-related waste found in the testing will be removed with heavy equipment beginning in October, and 263 new testing holes will be dug to search for more. The dump, which operated uncontrolled and unlined from the 1950s to 1997, is located a few miles from a former uranium mill. (Arizona Daily Sun Sep. 26, 2009)

EPA to rebuild uranium-contaminated Navajo homes

The federal government plans to spend up to $3 million a year to demolish and rebuild uranium-contaminated structures across the Navajo Nation, where Cold War-era mining of the radioactive substance left a legacy of disease and death. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Navajo counterpart are focusing on homes, sheds and other buildings within a half-mile to a mile from a significant mine or waste pile. They plan to assess 500 structures over five years and rebuild those that are too badly contaminated.
Between the 1940s and the 1980s, millions of tons of uranium ore were mined from the 27,000 square-mile reservation that spans Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Many Navajos, unaware of the dangers of contamination, built their homes with chunks of uranium ore and mill tailings.
The U.S. EPA estimates it will cost $250,000 to demolish each structure, haul away the debris and rebuild. The residents of contaminated homes will not be charged for the rebuilding. So far, the U.S. EPA has assessed 117 structures and demolished 27 of them. Thirteen have been or will be rebuilt, and the owners of the others received financial settlements. (AP June 14, 2009)

Navajo demand comprehensive assessment of abandoned uranium mines

The Navajo Nation's top health official told the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Navajos continue to live with the Cold War legacy of uranium mining, and that a long-term, comprehensive assessment and research program with adequate resources is needed to address it. Anslem Roanhorse Jr., executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Health, said 520 radioactive uranium mines on the Navajo Nation were abandoned without being cleaned up. The uranium taken from Navajo land from 1944 to 1986 was used to meet the federal government's demand for nuclear weapons material, he said.
Testifying Thursday before the bi-annual CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry Tribal Consultation session on the Environmental Public Health in Indian country, Roanhorse said four million tons of uranium ore, known as “yellow cake,” were mined from Navajo land for more than 40 years. “There are about 500 abandoned uranimum mine sites throughout the Navajo Nation and only one has been fully assessed,” Roanhorse said. “At that site alone, the U.S. EPA estimated the total volume of contaminated materials to be about 871,000 cubic yards.” (Indian Country Today, Dec. 8, 2008)

EPA, in response to House Committee request, announces plan towards cleaning up the legacy of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, finalized a five-year plan for cleaning up the legacy of abandoned uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. The plan, requested by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. It details the strategy and timeline for cleanup over the next five years.
EPA is currently addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation - uranium-contaminated water sources and structures. This spring, the Agency tested 50 water sources and over 100 structures for radiological 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 use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures, and has already targeted at least 13 structures for remediation.
Beginning in the 1940s nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore were mined at various locations throughout the Navajo Nation's 27,000 square mile reservation. During the next five years, EPA will complete a tiered assessment of over 500 abandoned mines, taking action to address the highest priority risks. (EPA Region 9 release, June 13, 2008)

> Download: Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation, Five-Year Plan, as requested by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, June 9, 2008 (1.3MB PDF)
> View more information on abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation (EPA Region 9)

Navajo Nation Council approves legislation to establish tribal Superfund law

> see here

Contaminated groundwater from radioactive waste dump near Tuba City migrating towards Hopi drinking water spring

After years of unsuccessfully petitioning various federal agencies to remove radioactive waste at a dump near Tuba City, Hopi officials now say any cleanup might come too late. A plume of contaminated water has migrated to within one-third mile of a spring the Hopi village of Lower Moencopi uses for drinking water, new data shows. But the EPA does not consider the dump an emergency cleanup site, and at this point, village drinking water is still safe, according to EPA standards.
That could change very soon, however. Two out of three testing wells -- those located closer to the dump -- are registering levels of radioactive water slightly above what is federally considered safe in drinking water, according to hydrogeologist Mark Miller, a consultant contracted by the tribe. One of those wells sits at the same elevation as the spring used by Lower Moencopi. "This is a major concern of ours," said Bill Havens, special assistant to Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa. The contaminated water has reached the canyon used to water nearby crops, raising health concerns about potentially tainted corn, beans and melons. "It's close enough to the water that we irrigate with from Pasture Canyon that we need more conclusive data and some action to start doing something about the cleanup," said Lorena Naseyowma, assistant community services administrator for Lower Moencopi.
The unlined dump was opened by the Bureau of Indian Affairs decades ago and covered over with dirt and sand when it was closed in 1997. Cleanup is estimated to top $23 million and would require pumping contaminated water from the ground. There is currently no plan to clean up the dump, although meetings are scheduled later this month between Hopi officials and federal regulators. A chemical analysis has linked waste found in the dump to byproducts of a uranium mill formerly located a few miles from Tuba City. The Department of Energy has previously dismissed any such link. (Arizona Daily Sun Dec. 2, 2007)

House Committee appalled at federal agencies' incompetence to deal with mess left from Cold War era uranium mining on Navajo land

On October 23, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a Hearing on the Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation. The Committee was appalled by the obvious incompetence of the involved federal agencies (EPA, DOE, NRC, IHS, BIA) to deal with the legacy left from historic uranium mining on Navajo land, although the situation is notorious for decades. The Committee urged the agencies to tackle the problem without further delay and to identify any areas where Congressional action may be required.
> Download Testimonies

Aerial survey of abandoned uranium mines identifies excess radiation areas

"Aerial radiological surveys of forty-one geographical areas in the Navajo Nation were conducted during the period of October 1994 through October 1999. [...] The aerial survey and subsequent processing characterized the overall radioactivity levels and excess bismuth-214 activity (indicator of uranium ore deposits and/or uranium mines) within the surveyed areas. A total of 772,000 aerial gamma spectra and associated position parameters were obtained and analyzed during the multi-year operation. The survey determined that only 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) of the 1,144 square miles (2,963 square kilometers) surveyed (approximately 1.3 %) had excess bismuth indications above the minimum reportable activity, thus reducing the area requiring further investigation by a nominal factor of 76."
Source: An Aerial Radiological Survey of Abandoned Uranium Mines in the Navajo Nation, by T. J. Hendricks, DOE/NV/11718--602, August 2001
> Download full report (1.1M PDF)

Tribe urges cleanup for radioactive homes

"...thousands of Navajo men who worked in hundreds of uranium mines across the reservation from the late 1940s through the 1970s, mining the fuel for America's nuclear weapons arsenal. The miners found that with a little chipping, the waste ore rocks from mines could be squared up for excellent building material for walls, floors and foundations." [...]
"The Navajo tribe's office of the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Program has identified 1,300 abandoned uranium mines. Since 1989, about half the mines have been sealed with concrete and other materials. But piles of exposed uranium ore waste rock remain. The rock can contain 'hot spots' of uranium ore.
Even where mine reclamation has occurred, there are waste rock houses left standing or only partially dismantled. And because traditional Navajo families are sheepherders who live spread out from one another – their high desert homeland covers parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico – the EPA does not know how many uranium homes exist on the reservation." (The Dallas Morning News, Dec. 26, 2000)

> see also: Letter from US EPA Region IX to Elsie Mae Begay

U.S. Supreme Court says federal courts, not Indian tribal courts, must decide cases re impacts of former uranium mines to Navajo communities

Federal courts, not Indian tribal courts, can decide whether federal limits apply to allegations that nuclear-industry activities caused harm on Indian land, the Supreme Court said on May 3, 1999. Ruling unanimously in a case involving uranium mining on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, the court said federal law pre-empts tribal courts from ruling on such cases. (Law News Network, May 3, 1999 )
"In 1995, respondents Laura and Arlinda Neztsosie, two members of the Navajo Nation, filed suit in the District Court of the Navajo Nation, Tuba City District, against petitioner El Paso Natural Gas Corporation and one of its subsidiaries, Rare Metals Corporation. The Neztsosies alleged that on the Navajo Nation Reservation, from 1950 to 1965, El Paso and Rare Metals operated open pit uranium mines, which collected water then used by the Neztsosies for a number of things, including drinking. The Neztsosies claimed that, as a result, they suffered severe injuries from exposure to radioactive and other hazardous materials, for which they sought compensatory and punitive damages under Navajo tort law. App. 18a—27a. In 1996, respondent Zonnie Richards, also a member of the Navajo Nation, brought suit for herself and her husband’s estate in the District Court of the Navajo Nation, Kayenta District, against defendants including the Vanadium Corporation of America, predecessor by merger of petitioner Cyprus Foote Mineral Company. Richards raised Navajo tort law claims for wrongful death and loss of consortium arising from uranium mining and processing on the Navajo Nation Reservation by VCA and other defendants from the 1940’s through the 1960’s."
> View Supreme Court decision No. 98-6: EL PASO NATURAL GAS CO. v. NEZTSOSIE of May 3, 1999

U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms: Navajo Tribal Court can hear claims against former Kerr-McGee uranium mill

"Kerr-McGee milled uranium on the Navajo Reservation between 1952 and 1973, leasing land for the mill site from the tribe. Kerr-McGee sold the mill's entire production to the federal government. In 1995, defendants (the "Tribal Claimants"), who are members of the Navajo Tribe and residents of the reservation, filed a complaint in Navajo Tribal Court, alleging that the Kerr-McGee mill released vast quantities of radioactive and toxic materials, causing them injuries. Before the tribal court had proceeded with the case, Kerr-McGee filed the instant suit."
> View July 24, 1997 Court decision: Kerr-McGee v. Farley

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