EPA awards $85 million contract to assess abandoned uranium mines

Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land, an educational art and displays from artists depicting the impacts of uranium on Navajo land and its people was on display at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff earlier this year.

Photo by Loretta Yerian.

Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land, an educational art and displays from artists depicting the impacts of uranium on Navajo land and its people was on display at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff earlier this year.

WINDOW ROCK —Navajo Nation Council members were pleased to learn Oct. 18 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded an $85 million contract to Tetra Tech Inc. to assess abandoned uranium mines on or near the Navajo Nation.

According to the EPA, Tetra Tech Inc. will initially assess uranium contamination at 30 abandoned uranium mines.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse’Daa’Kaan, Upper Fruitland) said the announcement is a step in the right direction.

“For decades, Navajo people have continued to suffer from the effects of uranium mining and today’s announcement will help to determine what type of cleanup efforts will be needed at abandoned uranium sites,” Bates said.  

The announcement also states Tetra Tech Inc. will partner with Navajo Technical University and local businesses to train Navajo people in assessment and cleanup work. Additionally, Tetra Tech Inc. will initiate an internship program at NTU to provide students with hands-on technical work experience.

Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay, Jr. (Low Mountain, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tachee/Blue Gap, Tselani/Cottonwood), who represents communities with many people who have experienced health problems because of abandoned uranium mines, said he is optimistic about the $85 million contract, but added more needs to be done to help victims and cleanup mines.

“It is good news, but we should keep in mind that there are still people living with health issues every day due to abandoned mines and there are still many mines that present danger to our people,” Begay said.

Council members have continuously advocated and lobbied at the federal level for victims of uranium mining and in 2015 the Council passed legislation to establish the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission for the purpose of studying and drawing conclusions about the impacts of uranium mining and uranium processing on the Navajo Nation and to use the studies to issue recommendations for policies, laws, and regulations to the President and the Council.

For decades, nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore was mined on or near the Navajo Nation for the purpose of producing nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

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