Uranium clean up under way on Navajo land

Remnants of the last uranium boom are finally being swept away on the nearby Navajo Nation. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a five-year plan for cleaning up one more legacy of uranium mining in the Four Corners.

The EPA, in conjunction with the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, plan to clean up the hazardous remains of Cold War uranium exploration on Navajo land in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The plan, titled “Health and Environmental Impacts of Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation, Five-Year Plan” is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan details the strategy and timeline for cleanup over the next five years.

“This plan serves as an important milestone in addressing uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation” said Wayne Nastri, EPA administrator. “After years of working independently on these issues, these five agencies have collaborated with the Navajo Nation to establish a clear strategy for cleaning up the legacy of uranium mining waste.”

The agency is currently addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation – uranium-contaminated water sources and structures. This spring, the EPA tested 50 water sources and more than 100 structures for contamination. The agency will also use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures, and has already targeted at least 13 structures for remediation.

Last May, EPA workers got into the dirt at the Churchrock site in New Mexico. The agency had found elevated levels of radium in surface soils at homes and hogans and determined that soil removal at five of the residential yards was necessary to prevent radium exposure to residents. At the time, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. applauded the agency for helping in the nation’s longstanding quest to recover from uranium mining.

“I would like to thank the U.S. EPA for undertaking these actions,” he said. “We stood alone against large uranium development corporations for the longest time, and the Navajo Nation EPA’s persistence in advocating for our safety, our culture and our sovereignty is finally paying off.”

The work will by no means end at Churchrock. Beginning in the 1940s nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore were mined at various locations throughout the Navajo Nation’s 27,000-square-mile reservation. During the next five years, EPA will complete a tiered assessment of more than 500 abandoned mines, taking action to address the highest priority risks.

Area shelter inundated with strays

The numbers of stray animals appear to be exploding in the region. The La Plata County Humane Society has seen a strong upward trend this year, especially in the number of surrendered and abandoned cats and kittens.

In the past two months, the shelter has seen a noticeable jump from previous years, receiving 88 cats this April, up from 54 last year, and 182 cats this May, up from 80 in May of 2007. These increased numbers are not merely a result of “kitten season,” the general summer mating season of cats, when one animal will produce, on average, three litters of four to six kittens each. Yet the staggering amounts of kittens produced during “kitten season” make it increasingly difficult for shelters, like the La Plata County Humane Society, to find homes for the animals as well as for the adult cats.

 “The disturbing thing is that this is a preventable problem,” said Chris Nelson, director of animal services at the Humane Society. The shelter urges owners to have their animals spayed or neutered and do their part to help decrease the amount of kittens (or dogs) that will then need homes.

Pet owners are not the only ones who can help. Durangoans are encouraged to become foster parents, to kittens or puppies, until they are eight weeks and old enough for adoption. Completion of an application, the necessary space, and a willingness to care for the animals are the only requirements to be

a foster parent. All the necessary food, toys and supplies are provided by the Humane Society. By living in a home, these animals become more socialized with people and other animals. “It makes them more adoptable,” said Martha Gowin, of the Humane Society. While the average stay at the Humane Society before adoption for a kitten is 19 days, those who have returned from fostering are generally adopted in two to three days.

Fostering also provides space for the Humane Society to care for other animals, and to more easily absorb the large amount of kittens they receive. Thus far this year, the Humane Society has already received more than 50 litters of kittens, and on any given day, as many as 155 kittens could be in foster homes. With space for only 22 cats at a time, it simply would not be possible for the Humane Society itself to take care of all these kittens at once. “Without our foster families we could not function in the manner that we do,” Nelson said.

While there has been an increase in the numbers of dogs received by the Humane Society as well, it is not nearly as noticeable and is generally reflected in older dogs as opposed to puppies.

The Humane Society provides spay and neuter assistance, and spaying and neutering is included in the adoption price of all animals. For more information on adopting, or becoming a foster parent, stop by the shelter at 1111 S. Camino Del Rio, or visit www.lpchumanesociety.org.

Local restaurants ‘Take Back the Tap’  

Durango restaurants are stepping forward to “Take Back the Tap.” The Carver Brewing Co., Turtle Lake Refuge and the College Drive Café took recent steps to build support for public water and help eliminate bottled water by joining Take Back the Tap, a campaign of the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch.

Food & Water Watch is working in cities across the nation to urge local restaurants and chefs to sign a pledge to serve only tap water, help educate customers about the benefits of tap over bottled water, and whenever possible, install a carbonation machine to make sparkling water from the tap.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, noted that bottled water causes enormous amounts of waste, costs a great deal of energy to transport and is often inferior in quality to water from the tap. “Bottled water is a corporate hoax to trick consumers into paying hundreds, sometimes thousands, times more for a product than it is actually worth,” she said.

By joining the Take Back the Tap campaign, Carvers, the College Drive Café and Turtle Lake Refuge joined hundreds of establishments nationwide that have all sworn off bottled water.

“The growing momentum of the Take Back the Tap campaign signals an increasing opposition toward bottled water,” said Hauter. “The production and distribution of bottled water causes a host of equity and environmental problems.”

More information on Take Back the Tap is available at www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

– Will Sands and Beth Lueck



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