EPA awards $380,000 to Diné College for abandoned uranium mine study

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02/28/2017

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SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Diné College $380,000 to support the Agency’s Cove Watershed Assessment project.  Diné College will work with EPA scientists to determine the impact of abandoned uranium mines on the Cove area’s waters in northeastern Ariz.

The project, expected to be completed in 2018, is part of the EPA’s work to assess and cleanup Tronox (formerly Kerr-McGee) abandoned uranium mines sites. In a historic settlement with the federal government in 2014, Kerr-McGee Corp. and Anadarko Corp. agreed to pay $1 billion to clean up approximately 50 abandoned uranium mines where radioactive waste remains from the company’s former mining operations. Cove is near approximately 50 mines, 29 of which are former Kerr-McGee mines.

“Partnering with Diné College is an excellent way to train future engineers and scientists as they investigate hazardous waste in their community.  The students will gain real world experience by helping us evaluate a Navajo Nation watershed,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This work could provide a pathway for students’ careers while addressing the legacy of abandoned uranium mines.”

“Our Diné students will continue to learn to be scientists by working alongside EPA scientists, gaining invaluable skills and knowledge to assist the affected community and people of Cove, Arizona,” said Perry Charley, Director and Senior Scientist at the Diné College Environmental Institute. “Through this grant, there exists a great opportunity to bring together modern technology and traditional wisdom to support Diné people and provide a modern and sustainable life style in a healthy environment, where earth is respected and honored.”

Diné College students and professors will use the funds to help investigate the extent of radiological contamination the mines pose to the Cove Wash watershed, which covers 52.1 square miles of tributaries. Diné College will assist EPA scientists with sampling for heavy metal and radiological contamination of streams, unregulated wells, and livestock watering areas. In addition, students will use spatial analytical tools to understand the mining impacts in the Cove area and help convey research findings to the community.  The data collected will be used to develop sound cleanup strategies and mine waste disposal methodologies.

Diné College is the higher education institution of the Navajo Nation, with an enrollment of about 2,000 Native American students. The educational philosophy of the college aligns with the Diné traditional living system, which places human life in harmony with the natural world and the universe.  The philosophy provides principles both for protection from the imperfections in life and for the development of well-being. In doing so, Diné College proposes to integrate the Diné Traditional approach with the Western scientific approach to seek restoration through the Tronox settlement assessment.

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.  EPA has entered into settlement agreements valued at $1.7 billion to reduce the highest risks to the Navajo people.  Since 2008, EPA has conducted preliminary investigations at all of the mines, remediated 48 contaminated structures, provided safe drinking water to 3,013 families in partnership with the Indian Health Service, and performed cleanup or stabilization work at nine mines.  In total, funds are available to begin the cleanup process at over 200 abandoned uranium mines, approximately 40% of the abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. This work is a large coordinated effort between federal agencies and the Navajo Nation to address the legacy of uranium contamination.

In addition to the funds addressing uranium contamination on Navajo Nation, since 1984 the EPA has provided approximately $100 million in grants to Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement environmental pro¬grams.

For more information, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/navajo-nation-uranium-cleanup/cove-arizona-mines-cleanup