U.S. EPA awards Navajo Nation $89,260 to study air quality in Cove, Arizona

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News Releases from Region 09

04/24/2019

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SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency $89,260 to study whether abandoned uranium mines are affecting air quality in the Cove, Arizona, area.

Navajo community members have raised concerns about winds potentially transporting dust with radionuclides during the long-term cleanup efforts by EPA and Navajo Nation EPA. This study will sample airborne particulate matter, or dust, for a variety of elements including uranium, arsenic and lead. The study will also look for airborne radionuclides, including isotopes of thorium and radium.

“By working with the community, we can address these concerns and help ensure people in the Cove area have important information about the air they breathe,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker.

“This air monitoring study will examine whether dust from abandoned uranium mines in the Cove area are transporting trace metals and radionuclides,” said Oliver Whaley, Executive Director for the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency. “It is important for us to learn the vulnerabilities to people and the environment.”

The monitoring is scheduled to begin in spring 2019. Four monitoring locations will be set up in the Cove community and one outside of the community for reference. The Navajo Nation EPA will hire an environmental technician to support the weekly sampling collections during the year-long study. The funds will also support community outreach efforts and the purchase and placement of a meteorological station at the Cove Chapter House.

Funding for the study comes from a settlement between the federal government and Tronox/Anadarko Corp., successors to Kerr-McGee Corp. The company agreed to pay approximately $1 billion to clean up more than 50 abandoned uranium mines where radioactive waste remains from former mining operations; about half of these mines are in the Cove area.

In total, EPA has reached enforcement agreements and settlements valued at $1.7 billion to reduce the highest risks of radiation exposure to the Navajo people from abandoned uranium mines. As a result, funding is now available to assess and clean up 219 of the 523 abandoned uranium mines on and around the Navajo Nation. Clean up of the abandoned uranium mines is a closely coordinated effort between EPA, the Navajo Nation and other federal agencies.

During the Cold War, 30 million tons of uranium ore were mined on or adjacent to the Navajo Nation, leaving more than 500 abandoned mines. Since 2008, EPA has awarded over $11 million in grants to the Navajo Nation to address uranium contamination; conducted preliminary investigations at all the mines; remediated over 50 contaminated structures; provided safe drinking water to 3,809 families in partnership with the Indian Health Service; and performed cleanup or stabilization work at nine mines.

For more information on EPA’s efforts to address abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, please visit: www.epa.gov/navajo-nation-uranium-cleanup  

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