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Large Uranium Mine On Navajo Nation To Be Cleaned

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Large Uranium Mine On Navajo Nation To Be Cleaned

Large Uranium Mine On Navajo Nation To Be Cleaned

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday plans to clean up the largest and highest priority uranium mine on the Navajo Nation.

The cleanup of the Northeast Church Rock Mine in New Mexico will include removal of more than a million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil.

In 1979, the largest spill of radioactive waste in U.S. history occurred there when 94 million gallons of waste from the mine were accidentally released into a stream. It contaminated local water sources. And people who live in Church Rock blame the spill for a high rate of cancer in the immediate area.

Larry King, a member of the Navajo Nation, worked for the United Nuclear Corporation for eight years and today suffers from respiratory problems. Many of his relatives who live next to the mine have died.

"Some have passed on from breast cancer. Some have lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer," King said. "So it’s a big issue in our area."

The EPA says federal and state agencies will use the most stringent standards in the country to contain the contaminated soil in a lined, capped facility. The EPA called this an important milestone in the effort to address the toxic legacy of historic uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

Laurel Morales was a Fronteras Desk reporter in Flagstaff from 2011 to 2020.