Storm Erodes Cover Of Uranium Tailings Pile In Navajo Country - SMSC Sets Blood Drive
By Kathy Helms
MILAN – An isolated rain storm that eroded the cover of the smaller of two uranium tailings piles at the Homestake/Barrick Gold former mill site sent a flood of water 80 to 100 feet wide coursing through neighboring fields and yards before basically coming to rest at 27 Malapais Road, home of Wanda and Michael Gregory.
“We've had heavy rains before and it's never done this,” Wanda said Wednesday. “You couldn't see ground anywhere. After the rain subsided, we had mud puddles, but then all of the sudden we had a flood coming down the road and it just stopped here. I think it's destroyed my septic tank. My whole house smells like sewer.”
Michael, who spent six years delivering sulfuric acid to local uranium mines and mills and now suffers from neuropathy and sarcoidosis – a potentially fatal inflammatory disease that has attacked almost every organ in his body – went out and tried to dig holes where the water could drain.
“We got about a foot and a half of water at the edge of our property,” he said. The bar ditches were full and the culverts were plugged. Inside the fence that surrounds their home, the water was swirling.
“There was no water in the field next door – it was all pooling here. I went over and asked permission to cut dike holes in their furrows so the water would run out there. That helped a little bit but not much, but that was all I could do. I couldn't stop it. It just kept coming,” he said.
Their grandchildren played outside in the knee-deep water for nearly two hours while they were trying to get it diverted. They didn't know the rain had carved a big gash from top to bottom in the clay cover of the tailings pile.
“We thought it was just rain,” said Candace Head-Dylla, whose family had come to help. On Monday, she notified New Mexico Environment Department of the damage.
David Mayerson, a geologist with NMED, just happened to be in the area Monday checking out the Johnny M Mine. He went by the Homestake site and observed some erosion of the tailings pile cover.
Mayerson was back again Wednesday with a Geiger counter, taking gamma readings at the site and throughout the impacted neighborhood, as well as water and soil samples.
Bill Olsen, bureau chief for NMED's Groundwater Quality Bureau, said Head-Dylla had raised some concerns about ponding of the water and potential runoff, but from what Mayerson was seeing, “there didn't appear to be anything happening other than to the cover itself.”
Olsen said whenever there is erosion, it's a concern. “The cover is supposed to maintain itself through these types of events. It will take repair,” he said, but key for the bureau is to address citizen concerns about potential contamination, “and we won't know until we get the results back.”
Dana Bahar, manager of the Superfund oversight section, said though she had not been on-site, based on what was reported by the company and Mayerson's observations, “what we observed was nothing had breached, but to assure the citizens, he was taking readings.”
During a walk-thru of Malapais Road, those readings ranged from around 2,000 to 3,100 counts per minute, or close to what a regional background level would be, and are consistent with what NMED sees in the Grants Uranium Belt, according to Bahar.
“There is no standard. Every site will be different. But we do have regional ideas of what you would see. In other words, it's not at a level that we think additional contributions had occurred.
“We don't think any of the materials that were impounded were released. The material on top of the pile is not contaminated material so we don't feel there's any risk of that material. It's clean material. It's what would be in somebody's yard.”
She said the main concern would be if the liner was threatened. “I think Homestake was out there immediately, very soon after the breach occurred and my understanding is they are working toward inspecting the cap and trying to avoid it from happening again.
“They're reinforcing areas that they think might have been weakened by the rain. But that's why there is a liner under the cover. If that had been breached or broken or anything, then we would be a little more concerned.”
Linda Evers, who lives on Sundowner directly across the field from the small tailings pile, estimated the wash-out at “about 5 to 6 feet wide and easily that deep.”
“Where the equipment is sitting on top of the evaporative pond over there,” she said, pointing toward the tailings pile, “that whole side just gave away. They've assured us that there are berms over there to contain that, but it was just too much water in a short amount of time and there was just absolutely no way to contain it or control it.
“I'm not sure how they justify having a breached tailings pond wall is an OK thing. To us here in the community it wasn't OK,” she said.
Valentin and Josie Lopez live on Thunderbird Road, just west of the Homestake/Barrick Gold site.
“We started noticing vehicles coming down the road and they were going through water. It was like, 'Wait a minute. Our property is lower than across the street, which is Homestake, so that water is coming into our place.' That's when we got a little bit concerned.
“I went out there and saw there was little to nothing I could do but let the water run on through from the Homestake property on out. ... Unfortunately, I still have at least an acre under water right now with 3 or 4 inches in our back property. I have all that standing water and who knows what's in it.”
Josie said her greatest fear at the time was that the water would come into the house. “I would go outside every once in a while. I had my little umbrella. I would see a lot of people stopped, not realizing how much water was there. I told my kids, 'Do you want to go out and swim?' because they needed to get back into town and they couldn't even make it out the driveway.”
Now, with all the standing water, she is worried it is going to create a lot of mosquitoes. “That's one of our concerns also, especially with this West Nile stuff.”
Head-Dylla said that based on Mayerson's preliminary findings, it sounds like they were lucky this time. “But what's to protect us from next time?”
Bahar said they hope to have some test results back from the lab in about three weeks.
SMSC To Hold Summer Blood Drives, August 10th
By Tess Lehto
Prior Lake, MN – The SMSC will sponsor two blood drives on August 10, 2010, to better accommodate Community members,staff, and the general public who wish to help save lives by donating blood. The entire donation process takes less than an hour; with the whole blood collection portion taking only 10 minutes.
On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, one Summer Blood Drive open to the public will take place in a bloodmobile in the parking lot of Dakotah! Sport and Fitness from noon – 7:00 p.m. That same day, a mobile blood center bus at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel will offer the opportunity to give blood for employees between the hours of noon and 5:00 p.m.
If you would like to make an appointment to give blood during the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community's Summer Blood Drive, call SMSC Wellness Coordinators Angela Mostrom or Stacy McNabb at 952-233-2965. A limited number of walk-ins will be accepted.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, as an active participant in the local community, holds several blood drives each year to help save lives. The SMSC has sponsored blood drives for more than 22 years.
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