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EPA Begins Clean Up of Abandoned Uranium Mines on Navajo Nation

There are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation and only a handful have ever been cleaned up. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun the long-term process to make the most dangerous of those mines safe for the environment and public health. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

The U.S. EPA recently allocated more than $328,000 to clean-up uranium mines throughout the Navajo Nation. The agency is also soliciting bids from private contractors to begin assessments of nearly 50 of the most dangerous mines. According to the EPA, to date fewer than a dozen have been fully investigated or cleaned up.

Dariel Yazzie with the Navajo EPA’s Surface and Groundwater Protection Program, says the process could exceed a billion dollars.

“It’s not going to address everything but it’s a good dollar value to start with. Mine waste, if it’s left unaddressed, will wash off and it’s got to go somewhere. And it’s going to go into a stream, it’s going to go into some kind of watershed,” Yazzie says.

Studies of uranium’s health effects on Navajo communities are ongoing. But elevated levels of radiation have been found in drinking water sources and homes near abandoned mines. That’s been found to cause bone cancer and impaired kidney function.

The EPA says the initial phases of the larger uranium mine remediation project will begin next spring.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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