Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency continues efforts to cleanup uranium mines on Reservation

Workers hose down the Cove, Ariz. uranium clean up site to keep dust down. The process of cleaning up the Cove uranium transfer station involved digging up and hauling away tainted soil. Photo/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Workers hose down the Cove, Ariz. uranium clean up site to keep dust down. The process of cleaning up the Cove uranium transfer station involved digging up and hauling away tainted soil. Photo/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

LEUPP, Ariz. - The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA) recently released a five-year plan to address the effects of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

Objectives of the five-year plan include the cleanup of contaminated structures and abandoned mines, the assessment of contaminated water sources and providing alternative water supplies, the clean-up of northeast Churchrock as well as the Tuba City Dump, to remediate former uranium mill sites and to conduct health studies.

Navajo Nation EPA Uranium Program manager Linda Reeves said there are 523 abandoned uranium mine claims on the Navajo Nation.

"We looked into cleaning up the highest priority mine sites, and focused on removal actions that pose the most significant risk to health. In all, we took nine removal actions in that five-year period," Reeves said.

According to the report, the EPA and NNEPA has identified responsible parties for 72 mine claims, found mostly in the western region and continues to seek responsible parties that have abandoned uranium mines.

Reeves discussed the report at a Health, Education and Human Services Committee (HEHSC) meeting.

"Cameron is very concerning because there are red dots all over the place which signifies uranium mine sites. Is there any way that you can go to every home in that area?" questioned Council Delegate Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Leupp, Tolani Lake, Tsidi To ii), who represents the community of Cameron.

The report addresses concerns over contaminated water. The EPA has provided approximately $26.7 million to the Navajo Department of Water Resources for a pilot water hauling program to serve about 500 residents a week.

"If you have to take soil or do you just have a detector or a GPS that is able to measure how water is tested? Because one of the things I am thinking about is getting information into the schools," said Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Pinon, Whippoorwill).

According to the Navajo Superfund Program report, contaminated structures found in rural areas continue to pose a health risk to their communities because homes are found to have radioactive waste, usually sand and rock, that have been used for building structures.

"We have found homes that were built with uranium mill site materials. The Navajo Superfund Program's goals are to assess 100 structures per year, and so far since 2009, we have assessed 973 structures. Some residents were not even aware that their homes had high radioactivity in them," said Michelle Dineyazhe, remedial project manager of Navajo Superfund Program.

Medical screenings and educational programs are underway because many communities are not aware of the effects of uranium exposure.

"The problem is, information provided to chapters do not necessarily get permeated out to the outlined communities. It is presented only to a quorum of 25 members of the community so, the information is not being dissiminated far beyond the chapters. This should be high on the priority list for the new Council," said Council Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler (Tó Nanees Dizi).

HEHSC members also discussed proper disposal of uranium mine waste at the Tuba City Dump, which occupies 41-acres near Tuba City. Many residents are concerned that mill waste may have been disposed of in the dump.

"We are now embarking on the second five year plan and we released a draft of that five-year working plan," Reeves said.

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