Feds Have Long Way To Go To Clean Up Navajo Uranium Sites

April 16, 2013

Environmental Protection Agency

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The federal government is five years into cleaning up abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. The Environmental Protection Agency met with Navajo leaders Tuesday to discuss the plan for the next five years. They still have a long way to go.

The EPA has spent more than $50 million to assess, fence off, contain and start to clean up the 500 abandoned uranium mining claims. It’s torn down more than 30 homes and hogans and shut down three wells. Federal agencies have piped or trucked clean water to 5,000 people. Agencies are designing a containment cell to hold the waste that remains at the largest mine site.

Nicole Moutoux of the EPA said more than 400 sites remain on the Navajo Nation with elevated levels of uranium.

"Really what our hope is to work with people to work on the things that are most urgent first," Moutoux said. "We felt like we got a good start on that with structures and water and some of the mine areas. But now we have a big job ahead of us, now that we know what’s out there."

About four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from the reservation between 1944 and 1986. Exposure to uranium and radium can cause lung cancer, bone cancer and kidney failure.