Hopis ready nuke waste suit
By Cindy Cole, Arizona
Daily Sun, MAY 22, 2009
After 12 years of asking various federal
agencies to clean up a federal dump they contend is
leaching radioactive waste into the local aquifer, the
Hopi Tribe is tired of waiting for action.
The Hopi Tribe filed a notice of intent
to sue Thursday, stating that a plume containing uranium
and other contaminants leaching from an open dump near
Tuba City was within 2,500 feet of contaminating water
supplies for two Hopi villages. The pollution left in
the unlined dump -- a dump created by the Bureau of
Indian Affairs -- is an "imminent and substantial"
threat to public health and the environment, and is
a result of multiple federal agencies approving Cold
War-era mining and milling operations that have polluted
multiple landscapes in Arizona, the tribe asserted.
The Navajo Nation has already filed
a notice that they intend to sue over the same issue.
The dump was located a few miles from
Rare Metals Uranium Mill, a 1950s-era uranium mill that
is a federal cleanup site with documented groundwater
Federal agencies have previously responded
that they thought the uranium documented in the groundwater
near Tuba City was possibly naturally occurring or blown
in by wind, and have requested multiple studies.
The Navajo Aquifer in the area holds
water at depths of 40 feet or less in some areas, and
is deeply culturally significant to the Hopi Tribe.
Some of the 1,400 residents of the villages
of Upper Moenkopi and Lower Moencopi requested federal
agencies conduct a full cleanup of the landfill in a
September meeting at the Upper Village of Moenkopi.
"I understand that we have a shallow
water plume, and then we have a deep water plume,"
said Hubert L. Lewis, governor of Upper Moenkopi. "Right
now the shallow water plume shows contamination of uranium
almost down to one of our main roads here in the village
and we're afraid, also, that it's going to affect one
of our three main drinking wells that we utilize for
In response to concerns, some federal
agencies offered to build a fence around the dump, saying
cleanup costs for the dump ranged in the tens of millions
of dollars and exceeded their budgets.
Meanwhile, village administrators working
on the case say there has been a lot of foot-dragging.
"It's been a long time for us,"
said Harris Polelonema, community service administrator
for Lower Moencopi. "We've been working on this
since 1998, '99. There has just been too many studies
Uranium contamination in the Southwest
has also been the topic of U.S. House hearings, with
some members of Congress pressuring federal agencies
to take action.
"I understand there was a small
town in Colorado that just recently had a similar issue,"
Lewis said. "And they went right in there and did
the cleanup and I said to myself, 'Just because we're
Native Americans, we're treated as second-class people.'
And because it's on the reservation, they seem to feel
like 'Oh, there's no hurry.'"
Among other items, the Hopi Tribe is
-- Wastes of all kinds were randomly
dumped on the ground and into large trenches excavated
by the BIA at the Tuba City dump.
-- Commercial and medical wastes generated
by various federal agencies were dumped there.
-- Wastes from the nearby uranium mill
were dumped there.
-- Groundwater sampling shows uranium,
arsenic, chromium, nitrate, selenium, and radium at
the dump exceed maximum levels safe for drinking water.
-- A plume containing uranium and other
inorganic contaminants is flowing toward two Hopi villages.
Named in the notice of intent to sue
is the Unites States, the Department of Energy, the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Interior,
the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Health
and Human Services, the Indian Health Service, the Department
of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and
El Paso Natural Gas Company.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607
or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Landfill dispute: A brief history
The Bureau of Indian Affairs opened
the unlined Tuba City dump a mile east of town in the
1950s and used it for more than four decades before
covering it with sand and dirt in 1997.
In addition to other trash, the dump
holds uranium waste that is 10 times more concentrated
than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers
safe for drinking water.
The Navajo and Hopi tribes have asked
various federal agencies to remove the waste for about
12 years without any success.
The radioactive waste in the dump is
very similar to waste left over at a uranium mill a
few miles away, according to a chemical analysis.
Other federal agencies, including the
EPA, have disputed this relationship, saying the radioactive
waste could have been blown in by the wind or come from
Scientists working for the tribes say
the rock formations near the dump are not naturally
From 1956 to 1966, a uranium mill a
few miles from the dump processed 796,489 tons of uranium
ore from the Orphan Mine at the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon and from a mine near Cameron.
The Department of Energy has identified
the uranium mill site as a source of radioactive pollution,
and is responsible for ongoing cleanup at the mill.
But the Department of Energy has sent
letters to the tribes stating that there is no proof
the landfill was contaminated with radioactive waste
from the uranium mill.
Neighbors living near the dump have
told the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency
that they saw trucks from the mill dumping waste into
the Tuba City dump.
The Hopi Tribe says there were no restrictions
on who used the dump or on what they unloaded, and that
the dump was persistently on fire.
In 2008, federal officials told residents
of Upper Moenkopi that clearing out the dump would be
too expensive, but that they would consider fencing