Navajo, Hopi challenged to prove radiation danger
Government not convinced radiation plume
presents imminent threat
The Navajo-Hopi Observer, November 04, 2008
UPPER MOENKOPI, Ariz. - "We are following the law;
I can't apologize for the last 10 years. You must convince
me that there is an imminent threat."
Jack Reever, Director of Facilities,
Environmental and Cultural Resources for the Bureau
Indian Affairs (BIA), delivered that challenge during
a recent visit to the Hopi village that included a tour
of sacred springs, farmland and the Tuba City Open Dump.
Lieutenant Governor Robert Sumatzkuku
of Upper Moenkopi and Harris Polelonoma, community service
administrator for Lower Moencopi, welcomed Reever and
other dignitaries to a meeting and tour of the area.
Polelonoma described a meeting with
Reever in Washington on Sept. 24 that included Hubert
Lewis, Governor of Upper Moenkopi) and Nat Nutongla
(Director, Office of Water Resources for the Hopi Tribe).
In his report to Henry Waxman, Chairman
of the Oversight Committee,
Reever included statements that data
do not indicate a hydraulic connection between water
supply sources and the Open Dump, and do not indicate
an imminent threat to drinking water wells or springs.
These are statements that Nutongla and others insist
Reever had promised not to make.
"We were dismayed and unhappy with
comments made at the Department of Interior level,"
Polelonoma said. "Our position has been to go for
clean closure, and Mr. Reever has not heard that position.
Reever apologized several times throughout
the day, stressing that he had made a mistake in presenting
"We plan to show Mr. Reever Susungva
Spring - the source of Lower Moencopi drinking water.
We hope that Mr. Reever can carry the message back to
Washington ... [and] hopefully this will give you a
better idea of what we are faced with."
Louise Yellowman, Coconino County District
5 Supervisor for the past 27 years, has a long history
of battling the Rare Metals and open dump sites.
"Uranium tailings have been out
there for many years," Yellowman told Reever. "We
thought we took care of everything, but now we have
found that there are hidden areas [and] contamination
underground. Basically, we are starting all over and
it will take ... Navajo and Hopi [communities to fight
Dave Taylor, who is with the Navajo
Nation Department of Justice has spent the last three
years working on uranium contamination issues. "It's
very clear that the Navajo Nation position is concurrent
with that of Hopi - for clean closure," he stated.
At Susungva Spring
Various residents of the area spent
a half an hour giving Reever a lesson in cultural sensitivity
at the sacred Susungva Spring.
Polelonoma spoke of the many uses of
the springs, explaining that the Katsinam use the spring
to return to the sacred San Francisco Peaks, that children
use the site to play, and that the water is used for
drinking and irrigation.
Sumatzuki explained that water and environmental
protection is the responsibility of Hopi and Navajo
Another resident informed Reever that
at one time he had helped to clean up the BIA yard in
"We loaded up trucks full of paint,
lacquer, refrigerators, stoves. We spent a whole summer
throwing in trash from the BIA. It wasn't regulated.
There were all kinds of things there - dead dogs, dead
horses, and dead cows. All the businesses dumped there,
too, including the hospital. In cities, people ... take
care of these kinds of problems. Here nothing is happening."
Lopez assured the group that the water
at the spring is still safe - but she fears that this
"Here, uranium is only two to three
parts to a billion; that is background level. Other
wells nearby have 300 parts to the billion. This water
is the equivalent of holy water, of the sacraments.
Considering the uranium contamination and the gas storage
tanks [nearby], this water is miraculous.
"As a medicine man, I know of the
importance of water quality in the collection and administration
of medicine," Max Yellowhair Sr. said. "We
know that these springs are protected by spirits, and
we want to keep the quality of the water; spiritually,
mentally and physically. The water must be pure. I worry
about the flow of underground water - what if it hits
a fast place? As a medicine person, if we use contaminated
water to treat sick people, we may worsen their health.
"I hope that you will take us at
our word," Goldtooth continued. "Do what is
necessary, Mr. Reever. People here are ready to go dig
up the materials themselves and move it."
The eye of the storm
Standing on top of the dump, which is
considered to be "capped," one cannot help
but notice the thick litter of broken glass, metal parts
and other debris that indicates that the cap is made
of materials taken from the dump itself. Numerous tests
have proven that the site is contaminated with uranium
and other materials such as arsenic and E.coli.
Nutongla pointed out that the Department
of Energy used the site as a dump, bringing their waste
to the landfill.
"There is any kind of waste imaginable
15 to 20 feet deep below us," Nutongla said, warming
to the subject.
He was interrupted by Reever, who cautioned
all present, including the press, that details regarding
the research must be discounted.
Nutongla countered, asking Reever what
research should be discounted.
"I don't want to participate in
an argument," Reever said. "I have agreed
to sponsor technical discussion of questions you've
asked. The reason I am here is that we have as much
interest as the rest of you to come up with the right
answers. We have a difference of opinion on the scientific
evidence. It will depend on the USGS (United States
Geological Survey) scientific process.
"We were all surprised last September
when the USGS said it could not release its information
to the public," Reever continued. "The USGS
can't release its information until January, and we
want to make sure people can stand behind the results."
"You have mischaracterized this
issue by stating that there is not a problem here,"
"I've withdrawn those statements,
and apologized to the Navajo and Hopi people. I made
a mistake. I apologized," said Reever
Later, Nutongla pointed out that an
apology did not change the fact that Reever's report
had been circulated in Washington.
Lillie Lane with the Navajo Nation's
Environmental Protection Agency challenged Reever's
statement regarding the USGS.
"You say you will rely on the USGS?
They have switched their position on whether the uranium
is naturally occurring or man-made several times,"
Lane pointed out.
"We are not relying solely on the
USGS," Reever responded.
Nutongla said that there are already
expert opinions in support that an imminent threat exists,
including those by Miller (who has studied the site
for 11 years), Bill Walker PhD, and Henry Haven, who
all have come to the conclusion that the uranium is
not naturally occurring.
John Krause (Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Western Regional Office) explained the significant differences
in data that need resolution.
"Some say that the plume travels
100 feet a year; some say it moves 10 feet a year. There
are differences in opinions as to the level of contamination.
We need some level of solidarity of technical aspects,"
"Whatever comes out of this study,
we will live with this," Reeves said.
"We don't want to live with it
anymore," Goldtooth said. "Do we tell the
people here that they have to live with it?"
Lane attempted to put a human face to
"Cecil Begay and his wife have
a well that they used for a long time, now Cecil's wife
is on oxygen," Lane said. "By the mesa to
the North, where that cottonwood is, an old lady used
a well contaminated by uranium. This is why we are frustrated.
People have seen dumping all through here."
Goldtooth added that his mother had
lived near the Rare Metals UMTRA (Uranium Mill Tailings
Remedial Action) site; and at the end of the day she
would see the uranium trucks washed off here, and that
water seeps down.
At the 1:30 public meeting, Reever expressed
his appreciation to the Hopi and Navajo Nations for
"I wanted to look for my own perspective,"
Reever said. "We are moving into final closure.
We are all working towards a common goal. I understand
the deep emotion here, and we all agree that this should
have been settled years ago. I learned of this problem,
I gave you money, and we are moving forward. My purpose
is to guide studies forward. I am not a scientist, but
I know how to get things done.
"We are done testing, and will
continue to monitor the data - the data is the data
- I will convene a scientific summit and we will spend
the time it takes. I will fund this. We need to narrow
the difference of opinion of depth and distance rate,
and the scientific summit will lead to the correct decision.
If they determine there is an imminent threat, we will
ask for the money to take care of that immediate threat."