Agreements to Advance Uranium Cleanups on Native American Lands

Federal officials have announced settlements aimed at reducing uranium contamination from abandoned mines and waste sites on Navajo and Hopi lands.

Under terms of one agreement, Rio Algom Mining LLC of Canada will pave part of a road near the Quivira Mine near Gallup, N.M., to tamp down radioactive dust, which can cause lung cancer when inhaled. The company will also repair fencing around a large waste pit to bar access by people and wildlife and minimize erosion from the site, according to a statement by the EPA.

The other settlement requires the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate cleanup options at a 30-acre dump site at Tuba City, Ariz. Contaminated material from a nearby uranium mill may have been dumped at the site, but the EPA says no solid waste has been found, The Arizona Republic reports.

Tribal leaders have pressed the government for decades to clean up more than 500 Cold War-era uranium sites in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The EPA’s announcement this week is part of a 2008 agreement between the EPA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare a five-year regional  assessment and cleanup plan, the newspaper says.

Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, called the cleanup effort near Gallup “a good first step in making Rio Algom accept responsibility for its past mining practices.”

According to Jared Blumenfeld, Pacific Southwest regional administrator for the EPA: “These actions are just one part of a coordinated plan that has already resulted in the replacement of 14 homes, the assessment of more than 200 mines, and funding for water systems that will serve over 3,000 people with clean water.”

In a separate case, two community groups are waging a court battle to bar the opening of a new uranium mine near the Quivira Mine in New Mexico’s Four Corners region, according to the Environment News Service. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday in an effort to stop a Texas company from beginning mining operations. Earlier this year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn the company’s license. The appeal claims the mine would contaminate the sole source of drinking water for some 15,000 Navajos living near the mine.

Print Print  

About the author

Jill Replogle is a researcher-reporter for FairWarning.

Leave a comment