Navajo Nation: Cleaning Up Abandoned Uranium Mines

El Paso Natural Gas Mines

The El Paso Natural Gas Mines are 19 abandoned uranium mine claims generally located along the Little Colorado River or Highway 89 near Cameron, AZ. Under a 2013 Administrative Order on Consent, El Paso Natural Gas agreed to perform surface level assessments for radium-226 at these mines.

Photograph of mine area, desert rock outcropping, with blue sky and white cloud

Site Description and History

Mines in the Cameron area of Navajo Nation were operated in the 1950’s and 1960’s by a number of different companies before being abandoned. While the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands program addressed many of the physical hazards associated with these mines, EPA and Navajo Nation EPA (NNEPA) are working to address remaining chemical and radiological hazards that may pose a risk to community members.

In 2013, EPA signed a legal agreement called an Administrative Order on Consent with El Paso Natural Gas to assess 19 mine claims in western Navajo Nation. View a map showing which mines El Paso Natural Gas is responsible for assessing. For more information about other work taking place in the Western Abandoned Uranium Mine (AUM) Region, visit the regional page.

  • Current Field Work and Investigations
    El Paso Natural Gas began field work in the Cameron area in 2015, under EPA and NNEPA oversight. See factsheets and presentations related to this work. Field work to date includes:
    • Obtaining access agreements from homesite lease and grazing permit holders (completed Fall-Winter 2014)
    • Ecological and cultural resource surveys (completed  May 2015)
    • Placing warning signs and fences at 7 mines; and signs only at 2 mines (completed August 2015)
    • Preliminary gamma radiation surveys of the 19 El Paso Natural Gas mine claims (May – November 2016)
    • Proposing Background Reference Areas for each of the 19 El Paso Natural Gas mine claims (July – November 2016)

Community Involvement

In the communities of Cameron and Coalmine Canyon, residents should know and participate in what EPA is doing in their community and have a say in it. The main purpose of engaging community members is to give them the opportunity to become involved in EPA’s activities and also help shape the decisions that are made affecting their community. To further this goal EPA plans to disseminate and discuss the Western Navajo AUM Community Involvement Plan in the Winter of 2016 and Spring of 2017.
  • Who is the Community?

    The 19 mines claims that El Paso Natural Gas is assessing are located along the Little Colorado River and Highway 89, and are located near Cameron, AZ. Some of the mines are located near homesites, especially for those living near the bridge in Cameron over the Little Colorado River. Additional mines are located along the Little Colorado River south of Cameron and along Highway 89 north of Cameron. Affected community members include those who live or graze livestock in these areas.

  • EPA Current Community Involvement Activities
    EPA works with Chapter Officials as well as community members for all outreach activities and information sessions which are conducted with cultural sensitivity.  At times EPA also plans community meetings with El Paso Natural Gas representatives, so that community members can speak directly to representatives of the company. EPA also continues to:
    • Report at Chapter meetings and District 3 Grazing meetings
    • Report at Community Land Use Planning Committee meetings
    • Present at EPA-led meetings in the community
    • Attend special events such as the Western Nation Fair and Cameron Community Celebration
    • Present at schools such as Dzil Libei Elementary School
    • Produce factsheets relevant to the Superfund cleanup process and upcoming field work in the region
    • Inform residents door-to-door when work will be taking place near their homesite
    • Meet with Chapter officials and Navajo Nation Council Delegates.
  • EPA Past Community Involvement Activities
    EPA completed the following activities in the community:
    • El Paso Natural Gas community meeting in Cameron in June 2015
    • Reported at numerous Cameron and Coalmine Canyon Chapter meetings
    • Reported at numerous District 3 Grazing meetings
    • Reported at Cameron and Coalmine Canyon Community Land Use Planning meetings
    • Conducted Community Involvement Plan interviews in Cameron and Coalmine Canyon
    • Met with Chapter officials and Council Delegates
    • Participated in Bennett Freeze tours with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, Navajo Nation Council Members, Arizona State Legislature Members, and staffers of US Congressional Representatives
    • Set up information booths at the Western Nation Fair in Tuba City, the Cameron Community Celebration, and the Community Uranium Exposure-Journey to Healing Mobile Clinic in Cameron
    • Presented at Dzil Libei Elementary School in 2014, 2015, and 2016
  • Partnerships
    EPA continues to work and strengthen relationship with a number of organizations focused on uranium and radiation, including:
    • Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency
    • Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program
    • Indian Health Service Community Uranium Exposure-Journey to Healing
    • Indian Health Service Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program
    • Office of Navajo Uranium Workers
    • Navajo Birth Cohort Study
    • Navajo Nation Department of Health Community Health Representatives
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs
    • Indian Health Service
    • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    • Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    • Department of Energy
    • University of New Mexico
    • Northern Arizona University
    • Forgotten People Community Development Corporation
    • Coconino County Board of Supervisors
    • Others as suggested by community members and local officials
Map showing Western AUM Region Abandoned Uranium Mines Western Region AUM Map | Enlarge | PDF Version

Cleanup Progress Timeline

The mines in the Cameron area were operated in the 1950s and 1960s, and reclaimed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program in the 1990s.  Under the 2013 Administrative Order on Consent, El Paso Natural Gas agreed to perform surface level assessments at 19 abandoned uranium mines near Cameron, AZ.  Click on the different years below to learn about recent and upcoming activities.

The Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program performs reclamation activities to address physical hazards at most of the mine sites.

From 2008-2012, EPA conducts initial screening of radiation levels on all mines in the region, and prioritizes 7 mines for cleanup. This includes Charles Huskon 12 and Charles Huskon 14.

EPA signs a legal agreement with El Paso Natural Gas to perform assessment work at 19 mine claims

  • EPA meets with Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, and Bodaway/Gap residents and officials to conduct interviews for Community Involvement Plan
  • El Paso Natural Gas obtains signed access agreements from homesite lease holders and grazing permit holders that will be affected by upcoming field work
  • El Paso Natural Gas conducts cultural and ecological surveys on the 19 mine claims ahead of field work
  • El Paso Natural Gas presents to the Cameron community in June
  • El Paso Natural Gas places fences and radiation warning signs at accessible mines
  • Gamma radiation surveys of mine sites and background references areas begin for El Paso Natural Gas mine sites
  • El Paso Natural Gas completes all work required under the 2013 Administrative Order on Consent.