September 10, 2018
TSAILE, Ariz. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Sept. 10 a $429,467 grant award to Diné College to study potential impacts of abandoned uranium mines on livestock in the Cove area of northeastern Arizona. Diné College will partner with Northern Arizona University and the University of New Mexico on the study and risk assessment.
Students and professors from the three schools will assist EPA scientists with sampling for heavy metals and radionuclides in livestock, including cattle, horses and sheep. Since 2016, EPA has awarded Diné College $809,481 for various studies related to radiological risk and ecological health, including a 2017 assessment of regional watersheds.
“Our continued partnership with Diné College helps train future engineers and scientists as they investigate the legacy of uranium mining and help us evaluate the ecological health in the Cove area,” Mike Stoker, Regional Administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest office, said.
“Diné College is delighted to receive this grant. This culturally sensitive study will provide an informed risk analysis that can serve as a model in radiological risk and ecological health in areas impacted by uranium mining,” Perry H. Charley, Director and Senior Scientist at Diné College’s Shiprock-based Environmental Outreach and Research Institute, said. “Diné students and staff will work with University partners and U.S. EPA scientists in conducting this important work.”
“The Northern Arizona University research team is honored to be a part of the Cove livestock study. Our past work on investigating uranium accumulation in sheep that graze on or near abandoned uranium mines in the southwestern region of the Navajo Nation will make a great comparison to the livestock grazing in the Cove area,” Dr. Jani Ingram, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University, said. “The research will be a major part of our Native American graduate students’ dissertation research. Many of them are Diné and their livestock are affected.”
“Researchers and students at the University of New Mexico are excited and honored to collaborate on this study. Our partnership with Diné College, Northern Arizona University, U.S. EPA, and people impacted by uranium mining will enable UNM researchers and students to address community concerns,” Dr. Joseph Hoover, Research Assistant Professor at University of New Mexico’s Community Environmental Health Program, said.
Funding for these studies 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 approximately 50 abandoned uranium mines where radioactive waste remains from former mining operations. About half of these mines are in the Cove area, which is primarily a residential area on the Navajo Nation. The results of these studies will help in the development of future uranium mine cleanup plans.
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.
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. Cleanup of the abandoned uranium mines is a closely coordinated effort between EPA, the Navajo Nation and other federal agencies.