The EPA awards uranium mine remediation contracts for the Apache County’s Navajo reservation

The federal environmental protection agency has awarded $ 220 million in contracts to rehabilitate 50 of the estimated 500 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Reservation.

The three companies will focus on 50 top priority locations, with the money coming from a $ 1 billion settlement between mining company Kerr McGee Corporation and its successor Tronox.

So far, the EPA and the Navajo Nation have agreements to clean up around 200 or 500 known sites. However, the agency has only fenced or stabilized 29 mine sites decades after its abandonment.

US Representative Tom O’Halleran, whose district includes much of northern Arizona, welcomed the award of the contract. “From World War II to the end of the Cold War, millions of tons of uranium were mined in Navajo territories, exposing miners and their families to deadly radiation. As a result, high rates of cancer, birth defects, and contaminated water sources remain a reality for residents of the Navajo Nation even today. I’m glad to see that my oversight efforts have pushed the EPA into making these critical investments. “

Most research suggesting a health impact outside the ranks of the miners themselves has shown a weak causal link based on the overall disease rate of people in potentially contaminated areas. It is much more difficult to categorically prove that an above-average cancer rate is actually caused by increased exposure to low levels of radiation in the environment.

The US House last year banned additional uranium mining on approximately one million acres of land that drains into the Grand Canyon for fear of possible contamination of Lake Mead.

The vote was partisan and based on government protests. O’Halleran supported the move, while Rep. Paul Gosar was against it. Efforts in the Senate died and the Trump administration pushed for uranium mining to be expanded for national security reasons. However, President Joe Biden rejected this proposal, calling the Grand Canyon an “irreplaceable jewel”.

The EPA issued a 10-year plan to clean up uranium mines last spring, in which many of the old mine remains are considered superfund sites due to air and water pollution with radioactive materials.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the cleanup.

Three companies have received cleaning jobs, two of which are Native American owned. All three companies have agreed to use local workers and train local residents.

O’Halleran has pestered the EPA and other federal agencies in recent years to accelerate the cleanup of abandoned mines in Arizona and New Mexico, most of which were active during the Cold War and then abandoned with no significant cleanup.

The youngest member of Navajo County’s Regulatory Board – Fern Benally – has also been campaigning for years as a civic activist to force mining companies to clean up debris and cease operations that have polluted water tables and left hazardous waste in many areas of the reservation.

From 1944 to 1986 mining companies removed 30 million uranium ores from the reserve, which is home to around 250,000 people.

To date, the EPA has conducted preliminary investigations at 500 locations, carried out detailed assessments at 113 locations and cleaned 50 contaminated structures. The federal agency and Indian Health Service have also provided 3,000 families with uncontaminated drinking water sources.

The cleanup work has so far only fenced off or stabilized 29 mine sites.

A study of 600 Navajo families found that 27% had high levels of uranium in urine samples, compared to 5% of the US population.

Many of the mine sites left ponds in contaminated debris that left seasonal ponds long after the mines shut down.

Many Navajo children played in these pools and cattle often drank from the pools. Some people even used discarded uranium ore to build their homes.

Various studies of people who worked in the mines or lived near the residue and a variety of health issues including lung cancer, respiratory diseases, birth defects and miscarriages, and other issues.

O’Halleran has also sponsored laws to increase compensation for people exposed to radiation while working in uranium mines or living near garbage dumps, as well as people who live ahead of the wind and potentially affected by dust in the wind are.

He supported Resolution 737 and urged the EPA to do more to clean up the mine sites.

O’Halleran said, “The toxic effects of closed uranium mines, including higher cancer and birth defect rates, continue to plague the communities in my district, particularly the Navajo Nation. We need to ensure that abandoned uranium mines are properly rehabilitated. “

The most recent contracts were awarded to the joint venture Red Rock Remediation, Environmental Quality Management Inc. and Arrowhead Contracting Inc.

“The EPA continues to work with the Navajo Nation EPA and local communities to address the legacy of abandoned uranium mines,” said Deborah Jordan, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Pacific office.

“This contract award is an important step in this ongoing work.”

Under the terms of the contract, companies must ensure that the Navajo communities benefit from the extensive cleanup and train employees in areas such as radiological contamination, health and safety, civil engineering, and road construction.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other issues for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at [email protected]

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