Living Near Homestake - Area A Virtual Mining Museum
By Kathy Helms
MILAN - Michael and Christina Simonson might have gotten more than they bargained for when they bought a house about seven months ago within a half-mile of the former Homestake uranium mill in New Mexico. The Superfund site, however, is not necessarily the problem.
The house, located at 406 Wagon Wheel, is situated on a 1-acre parcel littered with metal, but since it once belonged to a scrapyard owner, that, too, made sense to Simonson. Plus, there are numerous homes in the area with yards strewn with metal. All this place needed was a little elbow grease ;and at just over $40,000 after closing, the price was right. Simonson's neighbor, Linda Evers, 33 Sundowner, said the housing area was subdivided into 1 acre lots in 1956.
After moving in, he and his family set to work hauling off junk.
“We’ve already gotten five cars off, made one trip to the steel mill and eight trips to the dump,” he said. Then he stumbled on a surprise.
“We found like 200 uranium ore sample bags on shelves. We found a bunch of slides with elevation markings that fit under a microscope, one of which has United Nuclear written on it.” They also found a marked syringe containing an unknown green substance.
“We found a bunch of stuff that says Kerr-McGee on it, and mining helmets, mining drill bits, lots and lots of cables in the yard and by the shed. We found things that we don’t even know what they are,” he said.
“One item, which resembles an air pressure gauge, has numbers and percentages on it and says ‘uranium’ at the top. Some of the items were in shelves inside storage sheds, he said. Some of it was laying back in the corner by the shelves. Some of it we found just raking in different places.
“The uranium meter thing freaked me out and the slides freaked me out. We found one blasting cap, but we got rid of it,” he said.
Simonson believes the roof to the larger storage shed might have been made from old piping from a mine or mill.
“They’re coupled together and welded to the shed roof. There are two wooden sheds out in the back. One of them used to be a locker room or something for Kerr-McGee because it’s got all their stuff written down on how many truckloads they were getting a day,” he said.
The writing is on a piece of wood used to frame in the window to the laundry room.
They found clipboards from United Nuclear Corp.’s Churchrock Mine, parts used in a ball mill, 4-by-4 foot vent fans, bottles commonly used for yellowcake samples, parts of conveyor belts and the rollers.
Robin Webb of New Mexico Mining Museum said she did not know what the uranium gauge might have been used for, but added that the museum's board meets next Friday and she thought someone on the board might be able to identify it. The gauge also could be submitted for donation to the museum, she said.
“We found a really old decrepit book about Mr. Kerr and Mr. McGee. It was almost falling into dust but we bagged it up and put it somewhere.
“When you start digging in the dirt you can see where they put fill dirt by where the house is. The rest is just dirt. You can dig and see almost layers of the tailings that have blown. They’re whitish like over there,” he said, pointing across the back yard to Homestake.
“At night time you can smell it from over there when the wind’s blowing the right way. You can smell the tailings pond itself. It smells like every other tailings pond I’ve been around. It doesn’t have a clean smell to it.”
Simonson’s dad worked at Kerr-McGee’s Section 35. He died of liver and lung cancer and Simonson’s mother later received survivor’s benefits under the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act.
“I didn’t work in it; I just grew up by it,” he said. Simonson’s new home and virtual mining museum has not been surveyed for radioactivity, although he would like to have someone come in and do just that.
“That’s one thing that was in the contract. It said that it had not been tested for radioactivity, or something like that, but there was nothing about the well water being contaminated,” he said.
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