Skip to main content

Homestake Site Haunts Residents

By August 20, 2013Uncategorized

By Rosanne Boyett, The Cibola Beacon
(Cibola County) – “Don’t let them build the mine,” said one young boy quietly to an audience of more than 50 people.
But the Aug.14 meeting at Martinez Hall, NMSU-Grants, was not about the proposed Roca Honda site in the Mount Taylor Ranger District, Cibola National Forest.
This public hearing was focused on the uranium-mining legacy in Cibola County.
Federal and state agency representatives were there to update community members about the Homestake Mine tailings pile remediation efforts.
The site, owned by Barrick-Gold, is located north of Milan.
Market Demand
The Cold War era demand for nuclear weapons resulted in an influx of people who came to Cibola County because of the promise of high-paying jobs in the uranium mines.
“People were drinking the contaminated water, showering in it, and breathing the airborne radioactive dust,” recalled Johnnie Head, Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance (BVDA) member.
The state Public Health Department identified a contamination plume from the tailings in 1961, according to Head who added, “Homestake promised at a public meeting that the contamination would be cleaned up within 10 years.” Decades have passed and the groundwater contamination has expanded into the upper, middle, and lower Chinlé aquifers, noted Head.
Process and Contamination
Homestake-Barrick-Gold has been using a collection/injection system to remediate the contamination, which is focused on “flushing” water through the tailings.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study reported that the procedure was flawed and recommended that the flushing process be halted explained Head. She urged federal and state agencies to remove the pile and transport the toxic materials to a lined repository.
“Three feasibility studies indicate that the tailings pile should not be moved,” responded Larry Camper, NRC
Brian Holian, NRC Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Program, also disagreed with the Corps’ recommendation.
“The 2012 maps of the site show some good news since 2000, but I don’t want to minimize the problems,” he said.
The NRC is responsible for the Homestake Corrective Action Plan (CAP) explained Holian. “Homestake is complying with NRC requirements,” he reported, “but there has been very slow progress with the CAP.”
“We realized in 2010 that the contamination problems are much greater than the EPA had originally identified,” added Carl Edlund, EPA Region 6 Superfund Division director.
Identifying Sites and Health Issues
The EPA is currently evaluating 97 mine sites and has assessed 790 properties in the area. Some form of mitigation has been planned for 83 properties, according to Edlund.
One of those landowners is John Boomer, a Milan area resident.
Boomer described the confusing reports he had received following the 2010 EPA mapping of his property on Thunderbird Road.
“My property was lit up like a Christmas tree on the first map,” he said. “But later maps showed greatly reduced radiation levels. I don’t understand. Did the rules change?” he asked EPA officials at Wednesday’s hearing.
“This information is kind of confusing and disturbing to me,” responded Edlund. “I really want to say, Mr. Boomer, we’ll get back with you to see what those issues are with those (mapping) slides.”
Community Requests
One area resident promptly recommended, “I think EPA should hold a public meeting so that people could hear the discussion instead of your agency just meeting with Mr. Boomer.”
And another community member listed concerns and proposed agencies’ responses.
“I am speaking on behalf of the Multi-cultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE). We urge EPA and NRC to take action on five requests,” said Nadine Padilla.
The items:
• Federal and state agencies need to examine the cumulative effects of past mining and take these results into consideration when looking at proposed uranium industry activities.
She cited the proposed Roca Honda mine at Mount Taylor and noted that more than 9,000 public comments had been filed; 98 percent opposed the operation.
• Federal agencies should develop a regional nuclear waste repository.
• Comprehensive health studies to identify the effects of 40 years of mining legacy should be a priority.
• Comprehensive groundwater studies should be implemented to prevent further contamination of clean water supplies.
• Federal and state agencies need to immediately implement the agreed upon five-year remediation plan.
Another audience member reiterated concerns about aquifer contamination.
“Many area residents, in both McKinley and Cibola County, are very worried about groundwater contamination that will affect clean water supplies for future generations,” commented a member of the New Mexico Conservation Voters who is a Gallup resident.
Agency Responses
“The Homestake-Barrick Gold site is undergoing remediation to meet the standards that NRC, EPA and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have agreed to,” responded Camper, NRC.
“The steering committee, composed of EPA and NRC staff, met earlier today for several hours with Laguna and Acoma officials,” said Camper. “We are here to listen to community members.”
More Questions
“Why can’t the information be given in language we can all understand?” asked one person following the presentations by EPA and NRC staff.
A Pueblo of Laguna woman agreed, “We need to be able to understand these problems and have them explained in plain language – not all these acronyms. I’m not a geologist so these terms don’t really mean anything to me,” she added. “I think many people don’t come to these public meetings on uranium mining because they can’t understand the reports.”
“Homestake-Barrick Gold has spent less on remediation costs in the past 10 years than it made in profits in only 10 business days last year,” noted Head.
“We want our drinking water returned to the pre-mining conditions before Homestake started operations,” said several BVDA members.
“We want the community (neighbors) we had before Homestake-Barrick Gold,” Head emphasized.
“This is a human rights issue,” emphasized one MASE member and numerous audience members applauded.
No supporters of the uranium industry spoke during the two-hour public hearing.