Cleaning Up Abandoned Uranium Mines
There are over 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation. This page provides information about contamination from the mines and how it is being addressed.
From 1944 to 1986, nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills. Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.
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.
In October 2007, at the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA (NNEPA).
In 2014 a second Five-Year Plan was created which built upon the work done during the first five years, and established objectives and strategies to address the most significant risks to human health and the environment.
EPA and NNEPA prioritized 46 mines based on gamma radiation levels, proximity to homes and potential for water contamination identified in the preliminary assessments. Detailed cleanup investigations will be conducted at these mines by 2018.
So far, detailed cleanup investigations have been completed at six of the mines and funds are available to conduct the cleanup investigations at an additional 25 mines. In addition, urgent cleanup actions were conducted at five of these priority mines.