Tribes Want Clean Up On Uranium Contaminated Dump Site - Columbus Day In Denver
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK - The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe are tired of investigations of the Tuba City Open Dump.
They want it cleaned up.
Studies since 1999 have indicated the presence of uranium and other metals in the dump and shallow groundwater exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards. The tribes have repeatedly indicated that clean closure - or excavation, removal and off-site disposal of all buried wastes - is the only acceptable option to prevent future contamination.
In 2008, the Bureau of Indian Affairs put together a five-year plan of action for the open dump site that outlines how it plans to address the contamination. The tribes have objected to several components of BIA’s five-year plan, including the need for additional investigation of the site.
“BIA is spending more money to study the problem,” said Navajo EPA Executive Director Stephen B. Etsitty, who was in Washington this week to give a status report on the five-year cleanup plan from the tribe’s perspective to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“We’ve all been pushing for immediate action.”
Etsitty said there is a lot of criticism being levied against BIA because “pretty soon the cost of all these studies is going to be more than the cost of cleaning up. All this action that they’re taking - just taking more time to study - is going to be costing more than our recommended solution that goes back 10 to 15 years, which is clean closure,” he said.
A final interim remedial action report is due in October which will outline immediate steps to protect the community and address current public health threats posed by the site. Actions proposed include fencing the old dump to limit access and reduce potential exposure.
BIA will determine the design and Indian Health Service will provide funding for the fence, which is expected to be installed in 2009 around the boundary of the old cell.
Limited hot spot removal of the highest concentrations of uranium from the site is expected in 2009. Contaminated areas will be excavated and backfilled with clean soil, and the waste shipped off reservation.
The tribes are seeking immediate interim action to address contaminated groundwater that is threatening Hopi drinking water and irrigation supplies. BIA conducted comprehensive groundwater sampling in May and has installed additional monitoring wells near Pasture Canyon and the Moenkopi water wells.
The results from shallow groundwater monitoring have identified elevated levels of contaminants near the site, among them: uranium, arsenic, chloride, lead, chromium, strontium, vanadium, and gross alpha and beta activity. Uranium has been detected at concentrations up to eight times greater than the drinking water standard of 30 micrograms per liter.
Supply wells and springs located within 4,000 to 7,000 feet of the site provide drinking water and irrigation to the villages of Upper Moenkopi and Lower Moencopi.
Contaminants above the drinking water standard have been detected within 2,600 feet of the supply wells and springs.
BIA is conducting additional groundwater investigations to determine whether interim action is needed to protect the water sources. Initial assessments indicate contamination may be coming from locations other than the dump site, such as the Tuba City Uranium Mill Tailings site located about four miles northeast of the open dump site, and the U.S.160 site located directly across from the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act site.
Etsitty said the Navajo Nation will continue working with the Department of Energy at the Rare Metals Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act site for a possible connection between any contaminants that may have been transported from that facility over to the open dump, “although DOE is pushing back, saying it’s impossible for something like that to have happened.”
“It looks like we’re going to get some extra resources to put in some more monitoring wells to kind of test some hypotheses that we’ve been offering up about the movement of uranium contaminants in the ground.”
Etsitty said there is legislation in the House of Representatives pertaining to the Highway 160 site, an illegal dump from the past that was uncovered by wind and water erosion. The legislation would give DOE renewed authority to clean up and treat the site as a vicinity property under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act.
“That authority expired in 1997, so they need to go back and get it renewed for that site. It’s being proposed that they get an appropriation, in coordination with that authority, to the tune of $5 million,” Etsitty said. Now, they’re trying to get the same legislation and appropriation on the Senate side.
“It’s a pretty hard row to hoe when you only have legislation on one side of the House and they don’t match up on the Senate side,” he said.
Columbus Day/Indigenous Resistance Day In Denver, Colorado
1. Columbus Day Resistance March and Rally
The annual protest of the Columbus Day Holiday and the racism that it embodies will begin with a march from Four Winds that ends at the Capitol Building followed by a rally for a better future.
When: March starts at 8 am, Rally at 9am, Saturday, October 11
Where: Start of March is at Four Winds at 5th and Bannock in Denver, CO
2. People's Council
Following the Columbus Day resistance, people will be gathering to organize a new alliance locally that can act as a national vehicle for radicals. Bring your thoughts and cooperative energy. Please come and represent R68.
When: 1pm, Saturday, October 11
Where: The Great Hall at the Iliff School of Theology just past Evans on University Blvd, Denver.
3. Student Walk-out on Racism
Whether you are a student or not, join the students of Iliff, CU Denver, CU Boulder and DU as the educate the public about Denver's hidden racial past on the 101st Anniversary of the Columbus Holiday. There will be a student walk-out, a short rally, followed by a march to locations with a racial history that will end at Civic Center Park.
When: 12 Noon, Monday, October 13
Where: CU Denver's Auraria Campus, The Plaza Building Lawn
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