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Uranium

Uranium Ore

Navajo Nation is situated on a geologic formation rich in radioactive ores including uranium. Beginning in the 1940’s, widespread mining and milling of uranium ore for national defense and energy purposes on the Navajo Nation led to a legacy of abandoned uranium mines (AUMs). Some Navajo residents may have elevated health risks due to the dispersion of radiation and heavy metal contamination in soil and water.

The Navajo Nation brought these concerns to national attention at a Congressional hearing involving EPA, DOE and BIA on November 4, 1993. During this hearing, EPA personnel provided testimony about its federal authority under Superfund Law and offered to assist the Navajo Nation. EPA initiated a study in 1994 aimed at assessing human exposure to radiation and heavy metals from every known abandoned uranium mine (AUM) on the Navajo Nation. EPA has provided this assistance through the Superfund Program. Response actions have been taken utilizing Superfund’s Emergency Response authorities and while remedial action, listing sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) is a possibility, but not likely.

In August 2007, EPA completed a large study identifying 520 AUMs. In October 2007, EPA testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing followed by a meeting with select committee members to identify and respond to current issues raised by the Navajo Nation. EPA and several other Federal agencies are currently developing a Five Year Action Plans to address AUMs and related issues.

In June 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, finalized a five-year plan for cleaning up the legacy of abandoned uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. A copy of this plan can be found by accessing the link below under Site Documents and Reports or by clicking HERE. A web-feature was also created to highlight this accomplishment and that can be accessed by clicking HERE.

NPL Listing History

Proposed Date:

Final Date:

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Site Responsibility

EPA lead on this Site Assessment Project in consultation with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA). Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Program (AML) and the US Army Corps of Engineers are also important Partners.

FUTURE ACTIONS: Foreseeable actions will include:

  1. USEPA will survey approximately 100 structures and yards in Winter 2007 identified by Navajo Nation EPA studies. Decide whether to take action to mitigate risks posed to occupants.
  2. USEPA will sample approximately 70 unregulated water sources possibly used for human consumption identified from prior field work and through the efforts of other regulators and non profit organizations.
  3. USEPA will complete Northeast Church Rock Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis and make a decision by Summer 2008
  4. USEPA will initiate activities at several other mine areas identified through past investigations, to determine whether Superfund removal actions and/or Superfund listing is appropriate to address site related risks,
  5. USEPA and NNEPA will continue to perform community outreach to the Navajo Chapters about the AUMs, as well as other areas that request community involvement relating to AUM issues. NNEPA is delivering copies of the Assessment Report, Atlas and GIS database to all 110 chapters.

    Threats and Contaminants:



Abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) pose several threats to health and safety in the form of physical hazards and potential exposure to associated contaminants. Physical hazards include, but are not limited to, shafts and pits that people might fall into or unstable debris piles such as waste rock piles or abandoned transfer piles that might slide or be treacherous to traverse. AUMs may have a variety of contaminants that can impact health. Uranium ore, heavy metals, and other materials or chemicals associated with mine operations are just a small set of the potential contaminants that can be present at AUMs. Each of the potential contaminants pose unique risks to human health.

Aerial Surveys: The study entailed 41 aerial surveys of 33 Navajo Chapters, which encompass over 1,100 square miles, to identify sources of radiation (i.e., AUMs and naturally occurring deposits) followed by field sampling of possible mine features, potential drinking water sources and homes in the vicinity of radiation sources.

Residences: EPA is concerned about traditional Navajo hogans constructed of uranium ore, as well as contaminated soils in the vicinity of homes. Upon completing the aerial surveys, EPA notified communities in the vicinity of radiation sources that we could survey homes. This led us to sample 28 structures of which, two hogans were found to pose unacceptable health risk due to radiation exposure, notably gamma and radon levels. USEPA and NNEPA are currently surveying homes and are developing a strategy to conduct a comprehensive survey of contaminated structures to determine how widespread the problem may be.

Water: Ingestion of contaminated water has been identified as the exposure pathway of greatest concern. EPA sampled 226 water sources in the vicinity of radiation sources for uranium and other contaminants of concern, of which, 38 water sources were found to pose elevated health risks for radionuclides. Elevated health risks were only associated with unregulated water sources such as stock tanks, wells and springs. However, they were identified as drinking water sources by Chapter officials as sources used for drinking water by people that did not have running water. Elevated uranium was the primary contaminant of concern which might be linked to AUMs. In addition, some water sources were found to pose elevated health risks due to lead plumbing and biological hazards. In January 2000, Navajo EPA (NNEPA) asked EPA to pause field work until they could review our data and make recommendations about next steps. In February 2008, USEPA will resample the 38 sources as well as additional sources in the Eastern Agency not yet sampled.

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Site Facts:

Environmental Progress

Superfund Removal Actions:
Hogans: In October 2000, NNEPA asked EPA to remove two radioactive structures (hogans) in the Oljato (Monument Valley) and Teec Nos Pos (Four Corners) chapters. EPA negotiated with the families for several months to conduct the work and compensate them for replacement of the structures. EPA completed the removal actions in April 2001.

Northeast Church Rock Mine Site: In May 2007, USEPA conducted two removal actions involving excavation and backfilling of radium contamination in four yards adjacent to the mine Site. USEPA is completing the Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis for the mine site. USEPA intends to decide on a remedy by Summer 2008.

 

Potentially Responsible Parties

Potentially responsible parties (PRPs) refers to companies that are potentially responsible for generating, transporting, or disposing of the hazardous waste found at the site.

Investigations of the former mine leasees and operators are on-going.

Site Documents and Reports


 

Hide details for Fact Sheets

 

Fact Sheets

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09/01/97

U.S. EPA to Perform Helicopter Survey of Abandoned Uranium Mines in the Oljato Area

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05/01/98

U.S. EPA to Perform Helicopter Survey of Abandoned Uranium Mines

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09/01/98

U.S. EPA to Test Water and Home Construction Materials in Monument Valley Area

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12/01/01

Navajo Abandoned Uranium Mines Project Plan

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02/06/08

US EPA to Survey Construction Materials in Homes on the Navajo Nation

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02/06/08

WATER SAMPLING TO TAKE PLACE IN EASTERN AGENCY

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02/28/08

Gamma Goat: The Dangers of Uranium

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03/03/08

Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation, Five-Year Plan

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05/01/08

5-Year Plan Progress Report May, 2008

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06/19/08

Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation

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Black Mesa Chapter Map, October 2001

 
   

Bodaway/Gap Chapter Map, October 2001

 

 

 

Cameron Chapter Map, October 2001

 
   

Chilchinbito Chapter Map, October 2001

 

 

 

Chinle Chapter Map, October 2001

 
 

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Coalmine Canyon Chapter Map, October 2001

 

 

 

Cove Chapter Map, October 2001

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Greasewood Springs Chapter Map, October 2001

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Kayenta Chapter Map, October 2001

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Oljato Chapter Map, October 2001

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Red Valley Chapter Map, October 2001

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Rough Rock Chapter Map, October 2001

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Steamboat Chapter Map, October 2001

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Sweetwater Chapter Map, October 2001

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Tachee/Blue Gap Chapter Map, October 2001

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Teec Nos Pos Chapter Map, October 2001

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Teesto Chapter Map, October 2001

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Tselani/Cottonwood Chapter Map, October 2001

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Tuba City Chapter Map, October 2001

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Technical Documentsim

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12/01/00

Abandoned Uranium Mines Project Arizona, New Mexico, Utah - Navajo Lands - 1994 - 2000

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05/01/06

Western Aum Region Screening Assessment Report

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07/01/06

North Central Aum Region Screening Assessment Report

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08/01/06

Central Aum Region Screening Assessment Report

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10/01/06

Southern Aum Region Screening Assessment Report

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11/01/06

Eastern Aum Report Screening Assessment Report

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08/01/07

Navajo Nation AUM Screening Assessment Report and Atlas with Geospatial Data

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02/28/08

Northern AUM Region Screening Assessment Report

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Public Meetings: In March 2001, EPA formed a team of Navajo health, environmental and education agencies to plan and conduct an intensive 10-week round of outreach to the 30 Chapters where water samples were collected. The outreach consisted of discussing the water data and how to reduce exposure. Presentations were frequently in the Navajo language and reached approximately 1000 people. EPA developed chapter specific maps, indicating the water sources sampled, pictures of the source (e.g. well, spring, etc.) and the relative risk of drinking the water. The Uranium Education Program at Diné College/Shiprock provided translations and extensive background material about the AUMs. NNEPA and AML provided information about their programs to address the AUM issues.

EPA has since participated in additional community sampling and outreach activities organized by the Navajo Nation and individual chapters including Cameron (Black Falls area), Kayenta and Church Rock.

Northeast Church Rock Mine - USEPA and NNEPA have held three formal meetings and several informal meetings with residents and nearby interested neighbors.

 

After Hours (Emergency Response)

State Environmental Protection Agency

 

US Environmental Protection Agency

(800) 852-7550

 

(800) 424-8802