The Grand Canyon Trust has been pressing on multiple fronts to ensure that the White Mesa Uranium Mill – the only operating uranium mill in the United States – operates in full compliance with all laws designed to protect public and environmental health. The White Mesa Mill is located just three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s White Mesa community, on Highway 191. It is also located less than 15 miles from both Bluff and Blanding, Utah. The White Mesa Uranium Mill processes uranium from mines across the Colorado Plateau, and also extracts uranium from radioactive waste that is imported from toxic sites across North America.
Now EPA has proposed a lax new regulation that will apply to the White Mesa Uranium Mill. EPA’s proposed regulation will threaten public health by eliminating enforceable emission standards for radon, reducing the amount of required reporting and monitoring, and delaying reclamation of the White Mesa Mill site.
In a departure from its current regulations, EPA’s proposed new rule entirely removes numeric emission standards and accompanying monitoring and reporting requirements for radon emissions at the Mill. It also fails to limit the number of total tailings impoundments at the mill site. The existing limit of two tailings impoundments was intended to ensure ongoing reclamation of uranium mill sites, and to prevent owners from abandoning highly polluted sites without adequate remediation.
The toxic legacy of inadequately reclaimed uranium mills is a reality across southeastern Utah. Perhaps most visible is the former Atlas uranium mill, located along the banks of the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah. The ongoing cost of the federal closure and remediation of Atlas site is expected to exceed $1 billion — a cost borne by taxpayers after the mill owners declared bankruptcy.
Despite local concerns, the EPA denied requests to hold a hearing on its proposed regulation within reasonable distance of affected communities. Instead EPA held sparsely-attended meetings in Denver, Colorado, 450 miles away, but a convenient eight-mile drive from the Lakewood, Colorado office of Energy Fuels – the owner of the White Mesa Mill.
In the absence of the EPA, the Trust will hold a public meeting at the White Mesa Community Center on Thursday, October 23rd at 6pm to discuss the new rule’s implications for public health and the environment, and to encourage local citizens to submit comments to EPA by the October 29th deadline. This will be the only community meeting held about the proposed rule in the Four Corners Region, ground zero for the toxic legacy of uranium mill contamination. Please join us.
More on the proposed rule.