— EPA tells public “no harmful health effects” from significant radiation exposure

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER

For Immediate Release: Oct 16, 2017
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PRUITT’S EPA: LEARNING TO LOVE RADIATION

Public Told “No Harmful Health Effects” from Significant Radiation Exposure


Washington, DC — In a startling public health reversal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now declaring that radiation exposures equivalent to as many as 5,000 chest x-rays “usually result in no harmful health effects,” according to an agency document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For decades, EPA had taken the position that “There is no known safe amount of radiation” and is responsible for enforcing laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, which prohibits public radiation exposure at levels the agency now says is safe.

In a September 2017 document titled “Questions & Answers for Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies,” EPA declares, in a FAQ format, the following:

“How much radiation is safe? How much is considered low risk?
According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of 5–10 rem (5,000–10,000 mrem or 50–100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk…”

EPA does not specify which “radiation safety experts” it is now relying upon but it is notable that –

  • The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and EPA itself, have long estimated that 10,000 millirems could be expected to induce excess cancers in every 86th person exposed;
  • Those health effects are for a one-time exposure but EPA is rolling out a new approach that would allow daily public exposure at highly elevated levels every day for up to a year; and
  • EPA’s longstanding scientific estimate is that 10,000 millirems would produce a risk at least 100 times higher than EPA’s acceptable risk range on radiation exposure to the public.

“I knew that under Scott Pruitt EPA is in climate denial but now it appears to be in radiation denial, as well,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that EPA’s new advice contradicts its own 2007 advisory on the same topic which concludes “There is no known safe amount of radiation…the current body of scientific knowledge tells us this.” “This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite the overwhelming weight of scientific research.”

EPA’s new approach is encapsulated in a policy with the paradoxical title of “Protective Action Guides” that allows public exposure to radioactivity following a nuclear release at levels many times the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was finalized on the very last day of the Obama presidency but apparently has been embraced by the Trump team, as this health non-warning was issued just days ago.

“This signals that in the event of a Fukushima-type accident EPA will allow public consumption of radiation-contaminated drinking water for months,” added Ruch, noting that PEER is preparing to legally challenge the new drinking water Protective Action Guides. “Dr. Strangelove is alive and lurking somewhere in the corridors of EPA.”

###

Read the new EPA radiation exposure advisory

View summary of radiation exposure implications

See EPA side-by-side displays of contradictory 2007 and 2017 advisories

Look at EPA’s new radiation Protective Action Guide for drinking water 

https://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/pruitt%E2%80%99s-epa-learning-to-love-radiation.html

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— San Francisco: EPA & Navy used wrong and unsafe standard for radioactive/toxins cleanup; EPA Superfund manager stonewalls at public meeting

Lily Lee, EPA Cleanup Project Manager, Superfund Division
Interviewed on February 8, 2017 at a community meeting on the cleanup problems and fraud at the San Francisco Superfund site. The Superfund site is located at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory.

Ms. Lee was interviewed by Labor Video Project, and then asked questions by Dan Hirsch, UCSC Executive Director on Environmental and Radioactive Policy, on the cleanup and EPA exposure guidelines. Her answers, as Superfund Cleanup Project Manager, are surprising.

This is why these agencies organize “poster” open house format meetings. They do not want to be asked these important questions in front of an audience, and they certainly don’t want to be forced to answer. Of course, as public employees, they don’t want to be seen as avoiding or stonewalling, and they certainly don’t want to go on the record admitting negligence or indifference in implementing rules.

In a meeting in another town on a public health issue, members of the public refused to put up with this style of format. They pulled chairs into the center of the room, sat down as a group, and demanded to have a presentation made to them as a whole. Rather than do that, the people in charge gathered up their materials and walked out. Unless forced, they will not submit to a regular meeting format.

https://youtu.be/J_YVou0kmQI

Interview of Lily Lee, EPA, begins at 29:13

This transcript begins toward the end of her interview with Labor Video Project

Lee: …We are here to say that I am doing my job every day the same way I have been and I will keep doing so to ensure that the cleanup here is meeting all of the health-based standards

LVP: I understand that 50% of the black population, African-American population, their children have asthma and other toxins from living out here. Is that of concern to you?

Lee: What we do here is that we set the standards for cleanup based on health-protective levels and then we ensure that when the Navy’s cleanup is happening, both during the process and when they’re done, that it meets our health-based standards to protect people from health conditions such as asthma.

[“Health-protective levels” and “health-based standards” — The EPA has repeatedly loosened exposure guidelines for radioactivity which they acknowledge increases the percentage of the population that will develop cancer. If the EPA uses these terms often enough, do they believe they will become accurate?

Her following interchange with Dan Hirsch reveals that she does not enforce EPA’s own standards, and she further says that steady exposure to radiation at the level of 25 millirem is something the body can cope with.]

Hirsch: Did the EPA’s criteria in effect at that time — I’m not talking about doing an analysis years later that it wasn’t that big of a mistake — why was the mistake made in the first place? Why did EPA allow clean-up standards that were contradicting EPA’s then current standards?

Lee: And again, I wasn’t there at that time and I tried to look for records about this information, and I’ve unfortunately not been able to find those records, but what I can tell you is that I am looking at the current standards, the current PRG calculator which is unfortunately in flux right now, and we are looking to see, revisit these standards to determine whether or not they would fall within the circle risk (?) range using site-specific factors.

Hirsch: I mean, you know you’re playing a game about this over and over again. The public was told you were cleaning up to a one in a million risk. You’ve seen EPA standards, but it turns out the Navy didn’t do that and used standards that are very much weaker than the ones that they said they would be using, and EPA said should be used at that time.

You’re now saying you’re seeing whether, okay it was a mistake but whether the mistake was mistake of a 300 fold. That isn’t very reassuring to the public.

I want to come back to the central issue. Do you agree that 25 millirems should not have been used, that was, even at the time, something the EPA said that was not acceptable and not protective.

Lee: I want to explain that some of the language that you saw in the footnotes referenced the 25 millrems but wasn’t necessarily the only standard that the Navy would be required to meet that

Hirsch (interrupting): In the tables, they actually estimate the dose for the other standard that they met, and for several of those, that was 25 millirem. So they actually did use 25 millirem. They shouldn’t have

Lee (interrupting) ___waste?

Hirsch: And structures.

Lee: Okay, and structures.

Hirsch: And they’re not supposed to according to EPA guidelines.

That’s 12 chest x-rays a year. They’re saying it’s okay for people to get a chest x-ray a month from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. Even the EPA says that level of radiation is outside the upper limit of your acceptable risk range.

So do you concede that they used a cleanup number that EPA said, even at the time, should not have been used?

Lee: So, I would like to talk about the chest x-ray which is an acute dose meaning a dose that people would get in one situation during the chest x-ray itself as being different from what’s relevant here at the base which would be a dose that would be over time continuously across year. So that wouldn’t be something

Hirsch (interrupting): Your own agency says there is no difference. EPA formally said that getting a chest x-ray a month is no different than getting a thirtieth of a chest x-ray every day for those months. That there is no… It’s linear, so the rate at which you get it doesn’t matter.

You know that’s your own agency’s official position.

Lee: So, if you can get a small dose that’s over a period of time, your body does have some recovery and

Hirsch (interrupting): Excuse me, are you saying that EPA believes that radiation is potentially good for you – the hormesis theory? Or that, or are you also saying that the risk is not linear with dose? Because the official position of EPA is just the opposite of what you’ve just said.

Lee: So, thank you for sharing your perspective. I am saying that those kinds of exposures are different, and I am also saying as I have said before that we are looking at the original standards to see if under the current version of the PRG calculator which is going to be changed soon, that that will still fall within the national contingency plan superfund regulation range of acceptable.

Hirsch: I want you to answer once and for all whether the standards that they chose were consistent or inconsistent with EPA’s guidance in effect at the time they chose them. Not whether going back years later and trying to say whether it was a 300 fold mistake.

Was the standard chosen by the Navy and approved by the EPA inconsistent with EPA’s Superfund guidance in effect at the time?

Lee: And I’d let you know that I don’t have information about what the standards were in effect at the time and I’m going to go back and look at that information some more. I’ve done some research

Hirsch (interrupting): ___the 25 millirem was back then considered unacceptable? Back in 2013? Do you not know the ___ in 2013 is not acceptable? So why was 25 millirem allowed to be used?

Lee: As I said, we are going to be checking the current version of EPA calculator

Hirsch (interrupting): Why was a cleanup standard allowed to be used that was not consistent with your guidance? I’m not talking about whether a post doc analysis as to whether it is too huge a mistake. I’m talking about whether it was a mistake. 25 millirem, is it not today, and wasn’t it in 2013, outside the level that EPA said was protective? It was a level that EPA said should not be used for cleanup standards. Am I not right about that?

Lee: I will go back and check to make sure.

Hirsch: Don’t you know that 25 millirem EPA has always, has said for long periods of time and certainly in the last years, is not to be used at Superfund sites?

Lee: I have seen that guidance information before.

Hirsch: Alright. Well, then, let’s just admit, can’t you, that they used a cleanup standard that was incompatible with Superfund guidance in effect at the time. Can you admit that?

Lee: As I said, I will go back and check that information.

— Cover-up of radioactive and toxic waste at San Francisco; whistleblowers fired; 25 millirem used for testing in violation of EPA standards

Video by the Labor Video Project
53:53

The 420-acre shipyard was one of the nation’s most notorious Superfund sites, home to a federal nuclear program begun in 1946 that included a secret laboratory [Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory] where tests were conducted to determine the effects of radiation on living organisms. Military equipment and ships contaminated by atomic bomb explosions were kept at Hunters Point, and the grounds were polluted with petroleum fuels, pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, organic compounds and asbestos. — SF Chronicle, February 7, 2017

On February 8, 2017, government agencies held a  meeting on the state of clean up at San Francisco’s former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. It was an open format”  meeting with poster boards and reps scattered around the room, forcing people to individually talk with reps. This was done instead of a real meeting before the whole audience — presentations by the various oversight agencies and questions and answers from audience which would put them on record for their remarks and which everyone could hear. “A government propaganda show,” said a community advocate. This format was deliberately chosen for lack of accountability.

The Navy representative refused to answer a request to hold a meeting with presentations and debate.

Government representatives included:

Nina Bacey, California Dept of Toxic Substances Control
Amy Browntell, SF Department of Public Health
Lily Lee, EPA Cleanup Project Manager, Superfund Division
Zach?, U.S. Navy
Malia Cohen, SF Board of Supervisors

Community advocates who spoke on camera included:

Marie Harris, Green Action
Bradley Angel, Green Action
Dr. Ray Tomkins, environmental scientist
Daniel Hirsch, UCSC Executive Director on Environmental and      Nuclear Policy; Founder, Committee to Bridge the Gap

Comments and interviews:

3:10 Interview of Nina Bacey, California DTSC

16:13 Interview of Amy Brownell, SF Public Health

18:37 Marie Harris, Green Action

20:10 Bradley Angel, Green Action

22:11 Dr. Ray Tomkins, environmental scientist — on the testing

29:13 Interview of Lily Lee, EPA

35:10 Daniel Hirsch (UCSC) questions Lily Lee (EPA)

41:40 Interview of Malia Cohen, SF Supervisor

45:07 Bradley Angel, Green Action

From the Labor Video Project

Cover up blows up at SF Hunters Point Naval Shipyard “Clean-up” Meeting, 2-7-17

At a meeting at San Francisco Hunters Point superfund site, the US Navy, EPA, California Department of Toxic Substances and San Francisco Department of Public Health tried to explain what they are doing about the systemic falsification of testing at the highly contaminated site. There has been on Federal, state or local criminal investigation of the intimidation, workplace bullying and termination of health and safety testers and whistleblowers at Test America and Tetra Tech. The US Navy also said they are still employing Tetra Tech around the United States.

Continue reading

— Details on the EPA plan; agency hid proposed increases to “avoid confusion”; PAG levels 100s-1000s times Clean Drinking Water standards

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

For Immediate Release: Dec 22, 2016
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

RADICAL DRINKING WATER RADIATION RISE CONFIRMED IN EPA PLAN

EPA Hid Planned Exposure Levels 1,000s of Times Safe Drinking Water Act Limits


Washington, DC — In the last days of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to dramatically increase allowable public exposure to radioactivity to levels thousands of times above the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to documents the agency surrendered in a federal lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These radical rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” following a radiation release and could last for up to several years. This plan is in its final stage of approval.

The documents indicate that the plan’s rationale is rooted in public relations, not public health. Following Japan’s Fukushima meltdown in 2011, EPA’s claims that no radioactivity could reach the U.S. at levels of concern were contradicted by its own rainwater measurements showing contamination from Fukushima throughout the U.S. well above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. In reaction, EPA prepared new limits 1000s of times higher than even the Fukushima rainwater because “EPA experienced major difficulties conveying to the public that the detected levels…were not of immediate concern for public health.”

When EPA published for public comment the proposed “Protective Action Guides,” it hid proposed new concentrations for all but four of the 110 radionuclides covered, and refused to reveal how much they were above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. It took a lawsuit to get EPA to release documents showing that –

  • The proposed PAGs for two radionuclides (Cobalt-60 and Calcium-45) are more than 10,000 times Safe Drinking Water Act limits. Others are hundreds or thousands of times higher;
  • According to EPA’s own internal analysis, some concentrations are high enough to deliver a lifetime permissible dose in a single day. Scores of other radionuclides would be allowed at levels that would produce a lifetime dose in a week or a month;
  • The levels proposed by the Obama EPA are higher than what the Bush EPA tried to adopt–also in its final days. That plan was ultimately withdrawn; and
  • EPA hid the proposed increases from the public so as to “avoid confusion,” intending to release the higher concentrations only after the proposal was adopted. The documents also reveal that EPA’s radiation division even hid the new concentrations from other divisions of EPA that were critical of the proposal, requiring repeated efforts to get them to even be disclosed internally.

“To cover its embarrassment after being caught dissembling about Fukushima fallout on American soil, EPA is pursuing a justification for assuming a radioactive fetal position even in cases of ultra-high contamination,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called for the PAGs to be withdrawn on both public health and legal grounds. “The Safe Drinking Water Act is a federal law; it cannot be nullified or neutered by regulatory ‘guidance.’”

Despite claims of transparency, EPA solicited public comment on its plan even as it hid the bulk of the plan’s effects. Nonetheless, more than 60,000 people filed comments in opposition.

“The Dr. Strangelove wing of EPA does not want this information shared with many of its own experts, let alone the public,” added Ruch, noting that PEER had to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force release of exposure limits. “This is a matter of public health that should be promulgated in broad daylight rather than slimed through in the witching hours of a departing administration.”

###

 

View ultra-high proposed PAG allowable concentrations

(and explanation for the chart)

See briefing memo explaining why EPA wants water PAGs

Read letter of opposition from New York Attorney General

Revisit PEER lawsuit

— Obama administration final gift: EPA adopts huge increase in allowable drinking water contamination

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

For Immediate Release: Jan 19, 2017
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FIG LEAVES NO COVER FOR DRINKING WATER RADIATION ROLLBACK

Final Approval for Radical Radiation Rise in Water Supplies after Nuclear Release


Washington, DC — In a not so lovely parting gift, the Obama administration today formally adopted a policy of allowing public exposure to radioactivity following a nuclear release at levels many times the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Last-minute modifications ladled in by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address public health concerns afford scant comfort, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The “Protective Action Guide (PAG) for Drinking Water after a Radiological Incident” was finalized today by its publication in the Federal Register. This policy lets the public consume water containing radiation at levels hundreds and thousands of times what is permitted for the more than 100 chemical elements that can emit radiation (radionuclides) under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Since this policy authorizes leaving people in contaminated zones and not providing them bottled or other potable drinking water for long periods, it should be called a ‘Protective Inaction Guide,’” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER which had to sue EPA to force release of information specifying what levels of which radionuclides EPA would permit public exposure to. “Under this policy, affected Americans would be guinea pigs in an untimed radiation experiment.”

In its final action, the EPA claims to have tightened the policy with respect to duration of public exposure, the nature of the triggering event and protections for infants and nursing mothers. PEER disputes the accuracy and efficacy of these supposed mitigations for the following reasons:

  • Duration. These rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” after the radiation release has been brought under control (not necessarily stopped but no longer growing). EPA now contends that this period may last for “week to months but not longer than a year.” However, the PAG itself states that the early, intermediate and late “phases cannot be represented by precise periods of time” and suggests their duration be viewed as “in terms of activities, rather than time spans.” Nor does EPA specify what happens if this intermediate period extends beyond a year;
  • Trigger. EPA now says application of the PAG is limited to “nationally significant radiological contamination incidents” but does not define the term. The PAG itself states that it covers “a wide range of incidents,” not just reactor accidents but also spills. By contrast, the EPA website FAQ posting says the PAG applies in “any radiological emergency”; and
  • Sensitive Populations. The PAG allows 500 millirems (mrem) of radiation exposure for the general population but only 100 mrem for the most sensitive populations (e.g., infants, children, pregnant women and nursing women). But EPA never explains how non-nursing children will get only one-fifth the radiation their parents receive in situations lacking clean drinking water.

“EPA’s qualifications tacitly concede the dangers to public health but do little to solve them,” added Ruch, noting that PEER is considering a lawsuit to nullify the PAG. “Among other legal vulnerabilities, this policy flies in the face of the anti-backsliding requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

###

View the Federal Register notice

Examine redline showing recent EPA rewrites

See EPA’s public relations motivation for the PAG

Look at the full Drinking Water PAG

Read the non-explanatory EPA blog posting

http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/fig-leaves-no-cover-for-drinking-water-radiation-rollback.html

— Tell EPA — Stop dangerous radioactive drinking water

From the Nuclear Information and Research Service

November 21, 2016

In July, thousands of us took action to stop dangerous new radiation guidance for drinking water. The EPA refused to listen, and now this guidance could be approved anytime–unless we act now!

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy is on the verge of approving radiation levels hundreds and thousands of times higher than currently allowed in drinking water and at cleaned-up Superfund sites. These mis-named “Protective” Action Guides for Drinking Water (Water PAGs)  dramatically INCREASE allowable radioactivity in water. Enormous levels of invisible but deadly radioactive contamination would be permitted in drinking water for weeks, months or even years after a nuclear accident or “incident.” The PAGs are not for the immediate phase after a radioactive release but the next phase–which could last for years–when local residents may return home to contaminated water and not know the danger.

Take action now: Protect drinking water from dangerous radiation levels!

There are two quick actions to take today:

  1. Tell your EPA Regional Administrator (see map and list below) to ask EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy why she is raising radiation levels allowed in drinking water.
  2. Send a message to Administrator McCarthy yourself asking her not to approve these dangerous radiation levels in drinking water.

We have stopped PAGs like these from being approved before–and we can do it again. EPA insiders attempted to push these dangerous guides through in the waning days of the Bush administration, and public pressure like this got the agency to pull them back. Now we have to do it again!

Click here to take action now.

Thanks for all you do!

Diane D’Arrigo
Radioactive Waste Project Director

More Information

The PAGs protect the polluters from liability, not the public from radiation. CHECK out this NBC4 News Story.

These PAGs are a bad legacy. Approving them now is a deceptive way to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund cleanup levels, and EPA’s history of limiting the allowable risk of cancer to 1 in a million people exposed (or at most 1 in 10,000 in worst-case scenarios).

The PAGs don’t just affect water!

  • They markedly relax long-term cleanup standards.
  • They set very high and outdated radiation levels allowable in food.
  • They eliminate requirements to evacuate people vulnterable to high radiation doses to the thyroid and skin.
  • They eliminate limits on lifetime whole body radiation exposures.
  • And they recommend dumping radioactive waste in municipal garbage dumps not designed for such waste.

Outrageously, EPA is expanding the kinds of radioactive ‘incidents’ that would be allowed to give off these dangerously high levels and doses. PAGs originally applied to huge nuclear disasters like the nuclear power meltdowns at Fukushima or a dirty bomb BUT NOW they could ALSO apply to less dramatic releases from nuclear power reactors or radio-pharmaceutical spills, nuclear transport accidents, fires or any radioactive “incident” that “warrant[s] consideration of protective action.”

EPA REGIONS and REGIONAL ADMINISTRATORS

Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding
(617) 918-1010
spalding.curt@epa.gov;

Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck
(212) 637-5000
enck.judith@epa.gov

Region 3 Administrator Cecil Rodrigues
(215) 814-2683
Rodrigues.cecil@Epa.gov

Region 4 Administrator Heather McTeer Toney
(404) 562-9900
McTeertoney.heather@Epa.gov

Region 5 Acting Administrator Robert A. Kaplan
(312) 886-3000
Kaplan.robert@Epa.gov

Region 6 Administrator Ron Curry
(214) 665-2100
Curry.ron@Epa.gov

Region 7 Administrator Mark Hague
(913) 551-7006
Hague.mark@Epa.gov

Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath
(303) 312-6532
McGrath.shaun@Epa.gov

Region 9 Acting Administrator Alexis Strauss
(415) 947-8000
Strauss.alexis@Epa.gov

Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran
(206) 553-1234
mclerran.dennis@epa.gov

For more info, contact Diane D’Arrigo at NIRS: dianed@nirs.org or 301-270-6477

http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5502/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1378216

http://www.nirs.org

— Nigerians, contact the Navajo Nation about uranium mining safety claims — $$millions spent for cleanup and no end in sight

From Albuquerque Journal

Feds reach settlement with Navajos over uranium mine cleanup

By Susan Montoya Bryan / Associated Press
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government has reached another settlement with the Navajo Nation that will clear the way for cleanup work to continue at abandoned uranium mines across the largest American Indian reservation in the U.S.

The target includes 46 sites that have been identified as priorities due to radiation levels, their proximity to people and the threat of contamination spreading. Cleanup is supposed to be done at 16 abandoned mines while evaluations are planned for another 30 sites and studies will be done at two more to see if water supplies have been compromised.

The agreement announced by the U.S. Justice Department settles the tribe’s claims over the costs of engineering evaluations and cleanups at the mines.

The federal government has already spent $100 million to address abandoned mines on Navajo lands and a separate settlement reached with DOJ last year was worth more than $13 million. However, estimates for the future costs for cleanup at priority sites stretch into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could not immediately pinpoint the worth of the latest settlement.

Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, who is with the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the latest settlement marks the second phase of ensuring cleanup of mines that pose the most significant public health risks.

“Addressing the legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands reflects the commitment of the Justice Department and the Obama administration to fairly and honorably resolve the historic grievances of American Indian tribes and build a healthier future for their people,” Cruden said in a statement.

Navajo leaders have been pushing for cleanup for decades, specifically for the removal of contaminated soils and other materials rather than burying and capping the waste on tribal land. Since 2005, they’ve had a ban on uranium mining.

Over four decades, some 4 million tons of uranium ore were extracted from mines on Navajo lands with the federal government being the sole purchaser from the 1940s through the 1960s, when commercial sales began. The mining operations stretched from western New Mexico into Arizona and southern Utah.

Decades of uranium mining have left behind a legacy of contamination that includes one of the nation’s worst disasters involving radioactive waste: a spill in the Church Rock area that sent more than 1,100 tons of mining waste and millions of gallons of toxic water into an arroyo and downstream to the Rio Puerco. The result was a Superfund declaration.

Advocates have called for more studies on the health effects of continued exposure to the contamination resulting from the mining sites, and some have criticized the slow pace of cleanup and the lack of adequate funding for the work that needs to be done.

In a report submitted to New Mexico lawmakers last year, a team of consultants estimated it would take EPA more than a century to fund the removal of contamination at just 21 of the highest priority sites.

In a letter sent last month to President Barack Obama and EPA leadership, Navajo President Russell Begaye said the abandoned uranium mines project continues to struggle with outreach, coordination and trust issues.

EPA officials say in the last decade, the agency has remediated nearly four dozen homes, conducted field studies at all 523 mines on Navajo lands and provided safe drinking water to more than 3,000 families. Stabilization and cleanup work also has been done at nine abandoned mines.

Feds reach settlement with Navajos over uranium mine cleanup