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EPA Releases Eighth Update to the Administrator’s Superfund Emphasis List, Navajo Abandoned Uranium Mines added

04/15/2020
Contact Information: 
Margot Perez-Sullivan (perezsullivan.margot@epa.gov)
415-947-4149

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2020) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the eighth update to the Administrator’s Emphasis List of Superfund Sites Targeted for Immediate, Intense Action. In this latest update, the Abandoned Uranium Mines contamination in the Navajo Nation was added to the list and the Allied Paper, Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River site in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the St. Regis site in Cass Lake, Minnesota on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation and the San Mateo Creek Basin site in McKinley and Cibola counties, New Mexico were removed from the list. In addition, EPA continues to make progress towards achieving the milestones at the sites that remain on the Administrator’s Emphasis List. At least two more sites (St. Regis Waterway and Silver Bow/Butte) have made significant progress to-date, and EPA expects their milestones to be achieved soon.

“For the past three years, EPA has focused on getting Superfund sites across the country back on track, and even during these difficult times our work continues, most recently our efforts have finalized a cleanup plan at one site and resulted in cleanup agreements at two more sites,” said EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento. “I’m pleased to announce that the communities in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and McKinley and Cibola counties in New Mexico can be assured that the long-standing Superfund sites in their communities are on track and making great strides towards effective cleanups. We will continue to advance or accelerate Superfund cleanups at the Abandoned Uranium Mines in Navajo Nation and at sites across the country using every tool in our toolbox to address site-specific issues that delay cleanups.”

Since the creation of the Administrator’s Emphasis List in 2017, 19 sites have been removed from the list after achieving critical milestones that furthered site cleanup or solved issues slowing the pace of cleanups. With this update, there are a total of 15 Superfund sites on the Administrator’s Emphasis List. Today’s update includes:

  1. Removing the Allied Paper, Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River site in Kalamazoo, Michigan from the Administrator’s Emphasis List because the milestone to reach a settlement agreement between EPA, U.S. Department of Justice, the Kalamazoo River Natural Resource Trustee Council, and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy was achieved in December 2019.

After decades of working to cleanup this mega-site, EPA used the Administrator’s Emphasis List to bring needed attention to the site, specifically to the negotiation activities. The focused attention concluded 1.5 years of negotiations that culminated in an agreement that addresses many cleanup elements of the site, and for the first time, requires the NCR Corporation to perform and finance cleanup work at the site. The agreement with NCR Corporation, worth more than $244 million, provides funding to cleanup three areas of Operable Unit (OU) 5, pay for past and future EPA and State of Michigan costs and natural resource damages and claims. The OU 5 cleanup includes the removal of the Trowbridge dam, the largest dam within this portion of the river. Removing this dam allows access to remove contaminated sediments to prevent further contamination downgradient, as the dam continues to deteriorate. Additionally, this effort aligns with the State of Michigan’s effort to re-establish natural flow conditions of the river.

  1. Removing the St. Regis Superfund site in Cass Lake, Minnesota, on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation, from the Administrator’s Emphasis List because the milestone to sign the Record of Decision for Operable Unit 7 (OU 7) was achieved on April 2, 2020.1 

The site was added to the Administrator’s Emphasis List in 2017 to complete the remedy selection process that had stalled for over 6 years. The list brought much needed senior official’s attention to the long-standing issues preventing a cleanup decision. This elevated focus resulted in the Agency selecting a $21.4 million cleanup plan that removes dioxin-contaminated soil on 66 residential properties while meeting the Leech Lake standard of dioxin in soil. Activities to implement this long-awaited action can now move forward.

  1. Removing the San Mateo Creek Basin site in McKinley and Cibola counties, New Mexico, from the Administrator’s Emphasis List because the milestone to reach agreement with Homestake Mining Company of California, Rio Algom Mining, LLC, and United Nuclear Corporation to begin remedial investigation work at a portion of the site was achieved.

Because of the focus provided by placing this site on the Administrator’s Emphasis List, 1.5 years of inter-agency discussions and PRP negotiations were concluded and an agreement was finalized that will lead to beginning of active remedial field investigations necessary to move the site cleanup forward. The agreement requires the PRPs to investigate groundwater contamination in one of the three major areas of the site, the Central Study Area. The agreement also commits the PRPs to pay response costs EPA incurs in the future, starting with a payment of $700,000, and secure financial assurance for the $15 million estimated cost of the cleanup work. Finalizing the settlement was an important component of the overall mining district cleanup strategy initiated in 2010.

  1. Adding the Abandoned Uranium Mines contamination in the Navajo Nation to the Administrator’s Emphasis List to finalize the Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation Ten-Year Plan (“Ten-Year Plan”). EPA intends to use placement on the Administrator’s Emphasis List to focus attention on completion of development and finalization of the Ten-Year Plan. This plan will build on the previous plans, make adjustments based on lessons learned, and identify those next steps necessary to address the human and environmental risks associated with uranium contamination.

Addressing the legacy of uranium mining continues be a national effort involving multiple federal agencies, including EPA, collaborating closely with the Navajo Nation government and the respective Navajo Nation agencies.

EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation, and since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response.

  1. Retaining the DePue (New Jersey Zinc) site in DePue, Illinois on the Administrator’s Emphasis List because EPA is establishing additional milestones that are critical to moving the cleanup forward. These milestones include completing negotiations for the Operable Unit 4 (OU 4) residential yard cleanup work and remaining Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study work at other site areas.

EPA initially added the DePue (New Jersey Zinc) site to the Administrator’s Emphasis List to focus attention on reaching agreement with the responsible party to implement the remedy for the off-site residential soils (OU 4). Through the recently executed Unilateral Administrative Order in January 23, 2020, implementation of the cleanup work is expected to begin this year.

Today’s Administrator’s Emphasis List updates continue to demonstrate EPA’s commitment to the American people to facilitate progress at Superfund sites by resolving long-standing issues at cleanup projects across the country. EPA monitors sites removed from the list to ensure that significant progress continues, and cleanups move towards completion. Two such sites are the Madison County Anschutz Mine site in Fredericktown, Missouri, and the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation site in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Site cleanup progress at the Madison County Anschutz Mine site was hindered by several years of negotiations. Initiation of the Superfund Task Force and the placing of the site on the Administrator’s Emphasis List spurred action to conclude those negotiations. Now implementation of the property-wide cleanup of historical, surficial mine waste contamination is underway. Since the site was removed from the Administrator’s Emphasis List, the site’s lessee, Missouri Cobalt, has completed construction of its tailings reprocessing facility on the site and started recovering metals from on-site waste mine tailings. Missouri Cobalt also announced tentative plans to construct an on-site metals separation plant to produce purified metals products. Cleanup of contamination is moving forward as EPA recently approved the final work plan for the waste capping removal action, and field activities have begun.

Prior to listing the Mississippi Phosphates Corporation site on the Administrator’s Emphasis List, EPA conducted wastewater operations at the site that managed and treated wastewater at a rate of approximately 2,000,000 gallons per day—at a cost of approximately $1,000,000 per month. The site was placed on the Administrator’s Emphasis List to expedite permanent closure of the East Gypsum Stack and allow field work to eliminate on site storage of contaminated water and reduce the volume of water requiring treatment. Since the site was removed from the Administrator’s Emphasis List, closure of the East Gypsum Stack began in November 2018 followed by the installation of the final cover system on the initial 55 acres in September 2019. Overall, expediting this work, saved several months of time and millions of dollars of costly temporary wastewater management and treatment operations. This year, work will continue and shift to the south slope of the site. 

Background

EPA established the Administrator’s Emphasis List in December 2017 in response to recommendations from EPA’s Superfund Task Force. The list is comprised of sites identified by Administrator Wheeler and EPA regional offices that will benefit from the Administrator’s immediate attention or action to move site cleanups forward.

The list serves as a mechanism to address site-specific issues that may cause delays in a site’s cleanup progress. EPA considers removing a site from the list once the milestone is achieved and the cleanup activities are back on track. Sites move on and off the list as needed, and removal from the Administrator’s Emphasis List does not change the site’s status on the National Priorities List.  

The updated Administrator’s Emphasis List is available on the agency’s website at 
https://www.epa.gov/superfund/administrators-emphasis-list.

For more information on EPA's efforts to cleanup abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/navajo-nation-uranium-cleanup

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