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EPA settles with United Nuclear to investigate contamination at mine site

Release Date: 09/28/2006
Contact Information: Wendy L. Chavez, (415) 947-4248,

(San Francisco, Calif. -- 09/28/2006) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today reached an agreement with the United Nuclear Corporation requiring the company to further investigate contamination related to its historic uranium mining and processing operations at the Northeast Church Rock Mine site located on the Navajo Nation, approximately 16 miles northeast of Gallup, New Mex.

Under the agreement, the company is required to investigate site and facility-related contamination, including an unnamed arroyo, and take radiation and soil samples. The company must also replace an inadequate fence that currently allows individuals and livestock to enter areas of potential contamination.

“The conditions at this site present a risk of potential releases of hazardous substances to the air, surrounding soils and sediments,” said Keith Takata, the EPA’s Superfund division director for the U.S. EPA's Pacific Southwest region. “United Nuclear Corporation needs to determine how much contamination exists at the site and then take steps to clean it up.”

The EPA will evaluate the results of the investigation and consult with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency on any cleanup plans. The EPA will then attempt to reach a separate settlement with United Nuclear Corporation in which the company would clean up the area and pay for past costs related to the site.

In January, the EPA detected elevated levels of alpha radiation at the site and radium-226 in the surface soils. Radium is a known human carcinogen, and exposure may be a precursor to bone, liver and breast cancers and other health conditions.

Residences to the northeast of the mine permit area may have been affected by releases of hazardous substances and contaminants transported by wind, historic dewatering of mining operations, and runoff during snow, rain and flood events.

The 125-acre Northeast Church Rock Mine site operated from approximately 1967 to 1982, and includes uranium mine waste piles, several former ponds and sand fill areas.