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EPA begins three more Navajo uranium mine cleanups

Published: September 19, 2012
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Below is a press release issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It follows the 2011 clean up of the abandoned mine in Elsie Mae Begay’s backyard.

Release Date: 09/18/2012
Contact Information: Rusty Harris-Bishop,

SAN FRANCISCO – 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 three cleanups will take place in Cove, Arizona; Casamero Lake, New Mexico; and near Church Rock, New Mexico. The EPA expects to complete the cleanups by November.

The first cleanup in the Cove 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. Because this residual ore is hazardous, the public should avoid these areas until the cleanup is complete. 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. During the cleanup process, EPA will conduct air quality monitoring to ensure that residents in the immediate area — including the students at Cove Day School — are protected from any dust from the excavation.

Near Casamero Lake, New Mex., 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.

North of Church Rock, EPA will oversee work by General Electric/United Nuclear Corporation and Rio Algom Mining to clean up soils and a road located near the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the largest underground uranium mine in the U.S, and the Quivira mine which is located approximately 1/4 mile to the northeast. The UNC mine was operated from 1967 to 1984 and produced approximately 9.8 million pounds of uranium. The Quivira Mine was operated between 1976 and 1985 and produced 3.1 million pounds of uranium. This fall’s $4 million dollar work at the two areas near the Northeast Church Rock and Quivira mines precedes a larger $44 million cleanup of the Northeast Church Rock Mine expected to begin in 2016, contingent upon federal agency approvals.

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Read more at the US EPA.

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