Pacific Southwest, Region 9: Superfund
Serving Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and Tribal Nations
NE Churchrock Quivira Mines
EPA #: NNSFN0905492
State: Navajo Nation(NN)
City: Church Rock
Congressional District: 3
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Description and History
NPL Listing History
NPL Status: Non-NPL
The Quivira Mines (NE Church Rock #1 and #1East) are two former uranium mines that were operated by Kerr McGee Corporation (Kerr McGee) from 1974-1985. Rio Algom Mining LLC (RAML) received the property in 1985 and relinquished the lease in 1987.
The site is on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Sections 35 and 36, Township 17 North, Range 16 West approximately 20 miles northeast of Gallup, New Mexico.
The Site is near the United Nuclear Corporation (UNC) Northeast Church Rock Mine (NECR) located on Section 34 and 35. EPA Region 9 is overseeing UNC's clean up of the NECR site. Also nearby is the UNC Mill National Priorities List Site located on Sections 36 and 2, which is jointly managed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and EPA Region 6.
A community lives immediately next to the mine site on the reservation, downstream and down-wind of the waste piles.
The Quivira mine areas contain abandoned uranium mines and are considered to be the major sources of the soil contamination at the Site. All the uranium ore from the mines, approximately 5 million pounds, was processed at the Quivira Mining Corporation (QMC) Ambrosia Lake Mill located in Grants, New Mexico, and accessed via the haul road (a.k.a. Red Water Pond Road).
The Site consists of one shaft, a uranium ore waste pile, several mine vent holes, treatment ponds and a production well developed at approximately 1,800 feet used to dewater the mine workings during operations. The western and southern edges of the Site, representing an approximately 30 to 40 foot face reportedly constructed of mining overburden, is partially adjacent to the RWPR and the Arroyo.
The mining activities have resulted in a legacy of radioactive waste piles, sediment settling ponds and mine equipment debris. When the mine closed, RAML conducted reclamation activities to protect future land users and neighbors primarily from physical hazards, and addressed some environmental issues. All of the buildings and equipment were cleared from the area. Some of the mine waste piles were returned to the shafts. Remaining waste piles were contoured to reduce movement of the material. The ponds were drained and a fence was installed around the mine site and associated areas.
Region 9 determined that additional actions and investigation were needed to address potential health impacts to the community. As described below, RAML has agreed to investigate and stabilize (prevent further erosion and movement of waste at ) portions of the site pursuant to a 2010 Administrative Order on Consent.
Contaminants and Risks
- Surface Water
- Soil and Sludges
The sources of risk to people’s health come from two aspects of this mine: dewatering the mine shafts while it was in operation and the mine waste piles that were created while removing the valuable ore.
The miners would tunnel 1,600-1,800 feet below the surface to extract the uranium ore that was processed at the Ambrosia Lake uranium mill, now a government cleanup site managed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The uranium ore was situated in the ground co-located with an underground aquifer (groundwater). This resulted in groundwater seeping into the mine shafts. That water was pumped from the mine shafts to the surface and had the potential to carry uncontrolled radioactive sediments held in suspension to the surface. Kerr-McGee was required to treat this water before it was released into a wash, called simply the "unnamed arroyo". Water pumped out of the mines was treated via a system of sequential treatment ponds where the suspended sediments would drop to the sides and bottom of the pond as the water flowed through and out of the ponds into the unnamed arroyo. The ponds have been drained.
Mine Waste Piles
The waste piles are a result of removing dirt, rock, and rubble (overburden) from the mine shafts surrounding the valuable uranium ore bodies. Within these waste piles exists low-grade uranium, associated radioactive minerals, such as radium, and other heavy metals that were not separated from the overburden. This has resulted in large waste piles of contaminated soil on the surface of the site, where plants have begun to grow and people may come into contact if walking on the site. Additionally, the contaminated overburden is carried off the Site by wind and water erosion. The ore emits radon gas. If mine waste is used for construction materials or is located close to the homes, radon can build up and result in serious health consequences.
Potential Health Impacts
EPA has detected widespread Radium-226 contamination at and near the site. The site may pose a health risk to people who frequent the site. Exposure to the contamination can happen through inhaling radium-contaminated dust particles and associated radon gas, or through using contaminated rainwater and runoff that has pooled in the ponds. There is an elevated risk to livestock that have been observed grazing and watering on the site.
Radium-226 emits gamma rays, which can travel long distances and penetrate entirely through the body. Exposure to high levels of Radium-226 over a long period of time may result in harmful effects, including anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death. Exposure to high levels of uranium can cause kidney disease. Uranium is not known to cause cancer, but can decay into other radioactive materials that may.
Who is Involved
EPA Region 9 (Pacific Southwest) is currently the lead on the mine Site with consultation by the Navajo Nation EPA.
The Department of Interior previously oversaw the mine site reclamation. EPA took the lead in 2010 to address environmental concerns such as elevated radioactivity from the road and ongoing erosion of the wastes into the arroyo. The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were the lead agencies with consultation by Navajo Nation EPA.
In June 2007, concurrent with the Residential Removal Removal Action at the Northeast Church Rock Mine site next door, EPA removed contaminated soil from one property on the east side of Red Water Pond Road, which provides access to a number of nearby residences.
In August 2010, EPA negotiated an order with RAML to take initial actions. In Fall 2010, RAML completed the first phase of work (of two phases total) to identify and begin cleaning up contamination from the mines. U.S. EPA (EPA) and Navajo Nation EPA (NNEPA) oversaw the work. The completed Phase I focused on paving Red Water Pond Road and providing erosion control from the two mines. RAML completed the following:
• Performed cultural resource surveys of the mines;
• Repaired fences to keep people and animals off the site;
• Stabilized the mine site waste piles;
• Applied chip seal paving to Red Water Pond Road (RWPR) from the turnoff at Rt. 566 up to the bridge; and
• Began sample collection from the mine sites, the arroyos and nearby property.
EPA began initial investigations at the site in February 2009, after receiving data involving Red Water Pond Road from the parties responsible for NECR.
RAML took samples from the mine area in early 2011 to investigate the site and published the results in the Removal Site Evaluation Report in September 2011. EPA will work with NNEPA and the community to evaluate a final remedy. RAML performed an interim removal action along Red Water Pond Road in 2012 to excavate all soils in the road and road shoulders that were contaminated with radium. Approximately 15,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed and placed on the main mine waste pile inside the mine area fence for interim storage unit a final remedy is selected.
For more details, see the fact sheets entitled Upcoming Road Work on Red Water Pond Road – Fall 2010 and Red Water Pond Road Sealing Completed.
Cleanup Results to Date
• removed contaminated soil from one property on the east side of Red Water Pond Road,
• repaired fences to keep people and animals off the site,
• stabilized the mine site waste piles, and
• applied chip seal paving to Red Water Pond Road (RWPR) from the turnoff at Rt. 566 up to the bridge
Potentially Responsible Parties
Potentially responsible parties (PRPs) refers to companies that are potentially responsible for generating, transporting, or disposing of the hazardous waste found at the site.
Rio Algom Mining LLC (RAML)
Documents and Reports
Public Information Repositories
The public information repositories for the site are at the following locations:
EPA Site Manager
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Community Involvement Coordinator
Mail Code SFD
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
EPA Public Information Center
After Hours (Emergency Response)