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Release Date: 8/12/1998
Contact Information: Dave Schmidt, U.S. EPA (415) 744-1578

     (San Francisco) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) today announced that Hopi and Navajo tribal officials have begun working together with U.S. EPA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on a technical advisory committee to oversee cleanup of petroleum-contaminated soil and groundwater at sites in Tuba City and Upper and Lower Moenkopi.  The committee will include Christopher Prokop and Mary Keil of U.S. EPA, plus two to four members of each tribe and representatives of the BIA.

     The committee, which includes experts in groundwater protection and cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites, is expected to speed up the efforts of the responsible parties, gas station operators Sunshine Western Inc. and Thriftway Marketing Corp., and ensure that they expeditiously clean up the sites in a technically sound manner that protects public health.  The committee will meet on an ongoing basis to identify and discuss technical issues relevant to the cleanup, and will share information with the responsible parties.  Thriftway has hired a new cleanup contractor, ERM West Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif., and a new law firm, Landels, Ripley and Diamond, of San Francisco.

     All parties expect the cleanup to move ahead expeditiously, but one problem remains. In order to complete  a cleanup plan, the contractors need access to the lands involved.  To gain access, they need approval not only from the Tribal governments but also from the autonomous villages of Upper and Lower Moenkopi. These Tribal governments have stated their willingness to work with Sunshine Western and Thriftway to issue the approvals they need for the cleanup to go forward, but these parties have not yet contacted the villages to get the approvals.

     The cleanup has proceeded in fits and starts since U.S. EPA issued a cleanup order to the responsible parties in 1996.  Last year, Sunshine Western's contractor removed four underground tanks and associated piping, which appears to have removed the original sources of the soil contamination.  An attempt to stop the contamination from spreading underground by construction of an "interceptor" trench, however, was not successful.  This year, the responsible parties have submitted a work plan to make the trench more effective by, among other things, making a local technician available to monitor its operation every day.

     The importance of the cleanup was underscored by the recent results of water sampling from several springs in Lower Moenkopi.  The water, though still drinkable, was found to be tainted by low levels of hydrocarbons, indicating a possible petroleum-based contaminant. The Hopi Tribe has conducted additional sampling on water from the springs, and results are expected soon.  The new EPA/BIA/Tribal Committee will evaluate the results and make recommendations on needed cleanup actions.
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