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Oljato Chapter House Votes for EPA to Protect, Remove Uranium

Published: April 21, 2010
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The Navajo Chapter House in Oljato New Mexico voted 28 to 0 to direct the US Environmental Protection Agency to clean up hazardous waste at the Skyline mine on Sunday, April 11th.

The abandoned mine, once home to more than 100,000 pounds of uranium ore, sits on Navajo land and has long been known as a danger to local residents. Tests have shown that the level of radiation exposure surrounding the area is ten times the limit considered safe by the EPA.

In 2001, the EPA demolished the nearby home of Elsie Mae Begay, which had been partially constructed of uranium rocks which were left free for the taking after the mine closed in 1944. Begay’s son died of brain cancer at the age of 24.

Officials visited the area recently to discuss plans for cleanup of the area. Some local Navajo residents have long urged the EPA to at the very least build a fence that would restrict access to the mine tailings and debris from children and livestock.

Nine years ago, Groundswell Educational Films interviewed EPA uranium expert Andrew Sowder to ask what the next steps would be after Begay’s old home was removed. “The next, and the most important issue for a situation like this would actually be restricting access to some of the soil and ore that’s been left behind.”

“If it can’t be cleaned up at least right away, probably the least that should be done is some fencing placed as well as some kind of signs indicating the hazards present. So that’s really the very least, and probably isn’t that costly to do and it’s certainly the responsible thing to do.” (Watch his interview below.) The fencing and signs were never placed however.

But the recent vote by the tribal council could change that, assuming the authorities stick to their word.

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