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Written Comments of Steve Dylla and Candace Head-Dylla regarding Homestake-Barick Gold Mining Company Uranium Millsite

by Steve Dylla and Candace Head-DyllaResidents of Grants, NM and members of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) and the Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance (BVDA)
April 25th, 2014

Transmitted via email to:
NMED Hearing Clerk Sally Worthington
Room S2103

1190 St. Francis Drive

Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502

Candace moved to Murray Acres in 1975 and lived in a home less than a mile from the Homestake/Barrick Gold Superfund site. She lived in the community for two years, moved away, and then we moved back with two young children in 1987, again residing less than a mile from the site. We are members of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) and the Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance (BVDA). Steve lives next to the Homestake Barrick Gold site year round. Candace lives there during school breaks but works as a university professor in Wisconsin during the school year. Our children are now grown and living elsewhere, thank goodness.

The history of the Homestake/Barrick Gold Uranium Mill Tailings Superfund Site is an object lesson in regulatory agency failure. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have never adequately responded to the massive contamination that has destroyed our community’s groundwater, ruined our property value, and has likely affected our family’s health and the health of our neighbors, including causing the deaths of several. These agencies bow to political pressure and that is why we have, once again, been given inadequate time to prepare for this hearing. It is also why the entire community knows the result of this hearing is a foregone conclusion. The money and power of Homestake-Barrick Gold guarantees that the company will be given whatever they ask for in this permit. We write this statement knowing democratic and regulatory processes have failed at this site. We write so that our statement regarding this travesty exists in the record of this hearing; so that generations to come will know who tried to stop this egregious assault on our community—who tried to protect New Mexico’s waters. Other names will also being recorded here. We hope everyone associated with this hearing understands that his or her name will be linked with either those who tried to protect the health, environment, and welfare of New Mexico citizens, or linked with those who believed the almighty dollar was more important than the water we will so desperately need in the future.

Once again, Homestake-Barrick Gold refuses to commit the resources needed to fully clean the contaminated water and once again NMED will find that acceptable. In the last discharge permit hearing (DP-725), we asked NMED to require Homestake-Barrick Gold commit to operating a reverse osmosis plant that could actually clean all the water from the site. It is the right thing to do, but Homestake-Barrick Gold will not spend the money required and NMED does not want to get on the wrong side of this powerful company. So, instead, Homestake-Barrick Gold proposes experimental methods that are unproven and likely dangerous, proposes an insignificant increase in reverse osmosis, and NMED will approve this proposal and claim they are supporting ”progress” and “innovation” rather than colluding with a company that is too rich and powerful for them to regulate.

To make our community whole, all the tailings must be relocated to an appropriate site for safe and permanent storage. When that is accomplished, then we will have a chance to restore lost groundwater. Otherwise, the Large Tailings Pile (LTP) continues to leak into our groundwater, and nearby residents continue to be exposed to dangerous radon. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Draft Human Health Risk Assessment shows our community has been exposed to ambient radon emanating from the Homestake-Barrick Gold Uranium Mill Tailings Pile that is 5.5 times the EPA’s acceptable limit, resulting in an increased lifetime cancer risk 18 times what the EPA deems acceptable. What the report fails to mention is that some residents have suffered this exposure for over forty years now.

By not removing the existing waste piles to safe and permanent long-term storage, NMED and Homestake/Barrick Gold subject our community to radon that may eventually kill us and which has likely already contributed to the deaths of several community members. BVDA has surveyed 71 families in the area and we were surprised by the number of people in the community who reported serious health issues, from thyroid and lung disease to various forms of cancer. This preliminary information suggests the community needs a rigorous epidemiology study. Since no official health survey has been conducted, despite more than 40 years of exposure for some residents, there is no way to know for sure what the health effects have been.

In the same way they have failed to set appropriate groundwater backgrounds, NMED and the other regulatory agencies are also allowing Homestake/Barrick Gold to use inappropriate background levels for air monitoring, even though NMED established radon background for our area in 1979 and 1980.1 Natural background in the community has not changed in the ensuing years. The only thing that has changed has been the addition of evaporation ponds, and more contamination deposited above ground.

In the case of ambient radon, NMED’s failure to set adequate background cannot be blamed on upstream polluters. Air sampling in 1979 and 1980 by NMED (previously the NMEID) established radon levels to the west of the site that should be used as background. Only political pressure or a blatant disregard for the community’s health would support using the background Homestake/Barrick Gold currently uses. To add insult to injury, Homestake-Barrick Gold now proposes to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to use a different radon monitoring site that would be even less protective than the current monitoring stations, and, like NMED, the NRC will allow this rich and powerful company to do so because United States regulatory agencies have been underfunded and know that if they go against the companies with money, any political backing they do have will dry up and the regulatory agencies will lose even more money and resources as a result. It is a game the companies, politicians and regulators play to the detriment of communities like ours. When the correct background radon levels are applied, it becomes clear that our community has been dosed with radon levels that exceed both USEPA and NRC standards. To ignore appropriate background levels allows NMED to ignore—or pretend to have no evidence—that people in our community may be affected by past and continuing radon exposure.

For DP-725, Homestake/Barrick Gold proposed a double liner with leak detection “ports” which could miss leaks and did not provide adequate leak monitoring. Better liner systems are available and our community understands now how important it is to demand better protections since our situation is caused, in part, by missing and inadequate liners. However, that inferior liner was approved by NMED. The current proposal for detection is inadequate as well. We have no doubt it will also be approved.

In addition, soils in the community need to be sampled to see what deposits have been left from windblown tailings and evaporation spray mists, and from the tailings pile breach that crossed Thunderbird Road into Murray Acres and Broadview Acres almost thirty years ago. As was the case with DP-725 this has not been done and will not be required.

We believe Homestake/Barrick Gold plans to spend as little money as possible on this remediation effort and wait until our community dies off or until we are left with property so valueless we will not have the resources to oppose them. Far from protecting our community’s health and environment, NMED support for proposals like DP-200 show us that NMED is squarely in the company’s corner and clearly opposed to a thoughtful, scientifically engineered solution to this environmental nightmare.

With the federal government paying for half this remediation effort and Homestake/Barrick Gold as one of the wealthiest companies in the world, NMED should be able to work with USEPA and NRC to devise a solution that would move the pile for safe and permanent storage, clean the water, and provide residents some future relief, even if it cannot give us back our health.

Here are additional problems we have identified:

  • Alternative contaminant levels (ACLs) for the alluvial and Chinle aquifers are inappropriate. The Chinle aquifers show good, clean water upstream. There is no way to support the use of ACLs for these aquifers. No opportunity for public input by the affected communities was provided when these standards were adopted. It is a basic tenet of environmental law and justice that communities should be afforded an opportunity to review and participate in the adoption of regulations that affect them. National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. (1969), Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice (1994)

  • All the regulatory agencies with jurisdictional authority over the Homestake-Barrick Gold Superfund site are required to consider all applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs) when a polluting entity is unable to comply with existing environmental regulations. In addition, the Homestake’s corrective action plan for groundwater was never subjected to the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study process that is required for all Superfund sites on the National Priorities List. This means that the Homestake site has never undergone a comprehensive evaluation to determine the best methods for remediation and ultimate final closure.

  • The DP-200 does not detail methods, nor does it provide adequate information regarding:

    • Reports that provide the basis for proposed increased pumping rates; reports on the effectiveness of and need for continued flushing of the tailings pile

    • Reports on the performance of pilot tests for the full range of alternate technologies in operation or proposed for use or expansion in the future

    • Reports on the likelihood of long-term geochemical rebound of contaminant concentrations after the end of flushing

    • Reports on the evaluation of San Andres Glorieta Aquifers wells and possibility that faulty well construction has spread contamination into the San Andres aquifer

    • Reports providing detailed information regarding operational flows, methods, and techniques for the life of the proposed Discharge Plan and other monitoring well data

    • Procedures for detecting failure of Homestake’s discharge systems

    • Emergency plans and public notification in event of a contingency, such as tailings instability, pipeline breaks, RO facility shutdowns, evaporation pond leakage, or other system failures

    • Underground Injection Control compliance history

    • Applicable or appropriate and relevant requirements (ARARs) for all contaminated aquifers at the Superfund site

    • Evaluation of all monitoring well construction

    • Evaluation of current evaporative pond capacity

  • The DP-200 fails to take the USEPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment findings into consideration. EPA recently assessed the cancer risk to area residents at 5.6 times higher than the generally acceptable risk for combined exposures to soil, air and produce grown in the area. Excess cancer risks for radionuclides in water beneath the nearby subdivisions, primarily from radon-222 is 22 times higher than the generally acceptable risk, and is 18 times higher than the generally acceptable risk for radionuclides in ambient air. Radon-222 is one decay product of uranium. EPA 2013 Draft Human Health Risk Assessment. Although EPA has not yet finalized its draft assessment, the risk to our communities is ongoing. NMED’s draft DP-200 does not address how Homestake-Barrick Gold’s alternate ground water restoration methods will reduce the human health risks our working class community faces on a daily basis. NMED’s draft DP-200 should detail the measures that Homestake-Barrick will take to reduce the combined radiological dangers to nearby residents from its Superfund site property.

  • Property values in the five subdivisions next to the Homestake-Barrick Gold site have been negatively impacted by these known dangers. Residents who are unable to sell their homes and leave the area are involuntarily subjected to increased risks from continuing exposure to radon-222 via multiple pathways, in effect sacrificing their health and that of their families. We have had our home for sale for over two years now and not one person has expressed an interest in viewing the property.

  • The New Mexico State Engineer is supposed to require Homestake-Barrick Gold’s temporary water diversions “utilize the highest and best technology to assure conservation of water to the maximum extent practical.” OSE Permit No. 1605 & B-28 POD 1338. A determination that Homestake-Barrick Gold is using the best available technology for its groundwater remediation program cannot be made without a comprehensive analysis of the site’s geohydrology, or an evaluation of Homestake’s reverse osmosis treatment capacity, wellhead integrity, and mass capture of contaminants. USEPA’s report by the US Army Corps of Engineers concludes that the current system is NOT the most effective. USEPA Remedial System Evaluation.

  • In fact, it is very likely that contamination from both the large and small tailing piles will eventually migrate from the unlined piles into the alluvial aquifer beneath them once the flushing program ends. The likelihood of this eventual “rebound” effect is one of the reasons that ACOE has recommended discontinuation of Homestake’s flushing program. ACOE Addendum Remediation System Evaluation Report (December 23, 2010), Executive Summary

  • Besides recommending an end to Homestake’s flushing program, ACOE’s 2010 Final Addendum Report recommended that a rebound study should be initiated at the Homestake-Barrick Gold Superfund site. Executive Summary, ACOE Final Addendum Report

  • NMED, on the other hand, is proposing to allow Homestake to increase the rate and volume of injection and dilution without a quantity limit on the use of freshwater. DP-200, Paragraph 9 This constitutes an unprecedented expansion of Homestake’s flushing program into the last remaining public water supply for the Bluewater Basin without supporting data, and prior to completion of the required studies. Homestake has provided no evidence that its current RO capacity, or evaporative capacity, can accommodate such an unlimited expansion based on flow rates and discharge volumes at its treatment facilities. NMED’s proposal to allow this expansion is not supported by existing data or technical justification.

  • The San Andres aquifer is the last remaining uncontaminated source of public water supply for the Villages of Bluewater, Milan, and the City of Grants. In addition, it is the aquifer from which we draw water to irrigate crops and support livestock. Without this vital source of water, our community is doomed. The San Andres-Glorieta aquifer also provides most of the recharge for the Rio San Jose, a critical agricultural resource for Acoma and Laguna.

  • MASE has included in its comments a memo from Laura Petronis, OSE Hydrology Bureau, that states additional information is needed from Homestake in order to evaluate the effectiveness of its multiple restoration programs, due in part to Homestake’s own uncertain plans for site restoration, well locations and pumping/injection rates. Although Ms. Petronis did not anticipate any overall increase in Homestake’s consumptive water use, she did not independently evaluate Homestake’s claims that its alternate treatments will consume less than 1% of the total water pumped. She also assumed that all of Homestake’s new pumping and injection wells were in close proximity to existing wells. She did not conduct a surface water depletion analysis based on her determination that there would be no increase in Homestake’s diversion or depletion. It should be noted, however, that Homestake used less than half of its total diversionary right of 4,500 afy from 2001- 2010.

  • In addition, there is no oversight of the system Homestake-Barrick Gold is currently using. All waters are not metered. The company has been cited once by NMED for illegal discharging water in our community but only because a community member caught them doing it. There is no one to monitor activities on the site and no way to tell if what they claim they are doing is actually done. Untold abuses may be occurring and the public has no way of knowing because none of the regulatory agencies involved is on the ground overseeing this critical remediation effort.

  • A partial, rather than a complete, hydrologic evaluation was performed due to Homestake-Barrick Gold’s use of alternate treatment methods. Despite the hydrogeological complexity of the Homestake-Barrick Gold site the NMED does not require adequate modeling and the OSE simply refuses to get involved allowing anything the NMED approves.

  • A complete inventory and investigation of all well construction, including monitor wells, meters, and corresponding locations on the Superfund site property is required in order for NMED and other regulators to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of Homestake’s flushing program. Information outlining a specific pumping schedule for Homestake’s extraction and injection wells, metered flow rates and the purpose of each well is needed for NMED and other regulators to evaluate the effectiveness of each restoration method to be used by Homestake. This evaluation must take place prior to the renewal and modification of DP-200.

  • DP-200 does not enable NMED and other regulators to track and assess the removal of mass contaminants from the site and to evaluate the effectiveness of the flushing program, in combination with alternative treatment methods.

  • Homestake-Barrick Gold’s reports are sloppy and inaccurate. 50,000 kg of dissolved uranium mysteriously disappeared from the plume in Homestake’s mass removal analysis.

  • NMED’s draft DP-200 does not address Homestake’s use of 194 infiltration lines, consisting of 400’ segments of buried slotted pipe, to raise the water table and change the hydraulic gradient using fresh water or treated water. NMED should evaluate whether the use of fresh water in the infiltration lines could constitute dilution, or whether use of the infiltration lines could lead to enlargement of the alluvial aquifer contamination plume. Also, how will the company or NMED know for sure what happens in these slotted pipes? Could they become another way for the company to dispose of contaminated water without anyone knowing and no way to hold them accountable? In this case, the soils would absorb contamination in the short term, making it seem like water contamination had been reduced, but would eventually release this contamination many years later.

  • NMED does not have enough information from Homestake-Barrick Gold on how much water will be treated by each of its ground water treatment methods, and the mass of contaminants that will be removed by each method and within each aquifer, so that it can impose appropriate conditions for each treatment method.

  • The US Army Corps of Engineers ACOE also noted that Homestake’s flushing program is unlikely to be completed by December 31, 2017, the date that its current temporary license to divert water from the San Andres formation will end. OSE Permit No.1605

  • Homestake’s groundwater remediation program does not adequately address the small tailings pile.

  • MASE technical advisor George Rice has outlined the need to address the long-term effectiveness of Homestake-Barrick Gold’s flushing program and the possibility that contaminants from the Homestake-Barrick Gold site are migrating towards the San Andres/Glorieta subcrop, located approximately 2.5 miles southwest of the site.

  • Mr. Jim Kuiper’s review of Homestake’s CAP for ground water (submitted by MASE) noted the need for inter-agency ARARs (applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements) to be considered by EPA and NMED, along with long-term monitoring and water-management activities at the site. Rice and Kuipers both agree that flushing appears to prolong, rather than alleviate draindown from the large tailings pile by keeping the tailings in a saturated condition.

  • To date, the NRC has not yet approved HMC’s revised CAP, issued an environmental impact evaluation for the CAP, or provided the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposed revisions. Nor has the Homestake-Barrick Gold site ever been subjected to a full Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) process under the National Contingency Plan since it was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. Homestake began its ground water remediation activities in 1977, prior to its placement on the NPL.

  • Kuipers & Associates LLC recommends that a full RI/FS should be performed by EPA to determine the best methods for site remediation and ultimate final closure, and to build the record necessary to support site deletion. Kuipers & Associates believe the existing remedial actions described in the CAP are not consistent with recognized best practice and agency approaches at other similar sites. Significant additional response actions and long-term institutional controls beyond those described in the CAP will most likely be necessary. (See MASE submittals)

  • Permanent storage of the radioactive mill tailings and other recovered contaminants on-site will subject nearby resident communities and their property to continuing and unacceptable risks from radiological contaminants in ambient air and soil.

  • Suggesting experimental rather than proven methods after forty plus years of failure demonstrates how little value is placed on a real cleanup of this site. Homestake’s zeolite pilot study test results exceeded the uranium site standard for the alluvial aquifer (0.16 mg/L) without further analysis of how the treatment could be used to achieve the site standard. Molybdenum and chloride levels exceeded the site standards goal in the electrocoagulation pilot study. None of the methods proposed are proven. We have moved from being ignored to being the subject of experimentation. Also, the results of Homestake’s rebound evaluation indicate that the large tailing pile will continue to remain a source of groundwater contaminants into the foreseeable future. Mr. Rice points out that no explanation was provided for the target uranium concentration goal of 2 mg/L.

  • For years our community has maintained that Homestake-Barrick Gold does not play by the rules. It violates the NPDES (federal Clean Water Act) NMAC 20.6.2.2001, has no compliance history for Underground Injection Control permit at the Homestake site NMAC 20.6.2.3106C(8), and no surface water quality management plan for the San Mateo Creek basin to assure compliance with New Mexico water quality standards NMAC 20.6.2.3109H. An anti-degradation analysis for the San Mateo Creek where the tailings piles are located should also be performed by NMED’s Surface Water Branch.

  • Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The failure to make real progress at this site speaks for itself. Our community has not had meaningful or even regular involvement in this site. We have been treated like second-class citizens who must be tolerated at public meetings but whose opinions and information about the site is ignored, or worse.

  • We were told in the early 1980s that our water would be fully restored in 10 years. We trusted this statement by Homestake because we thought the NMED, USEPA, and NRC would protect our interests and insist on a full cleanup. Instead, these agencies have failed miserably in their charge to protect our environment and our health. Unfortunately, none of these agencies will ever be brought to task for their failures because Homestake-Barrick Gold’s money and power protects them.

  • Not mentioned in the DP-200 is the fact that contamination from another “reclaimed” uranium mill tailings site (Anaconda/ARCO, now overseen by the Department of Energy) is migrating towards our community. It may be that Homestake-Barrick Gold’s activities are drawing that contamination to our community. That possibility is not discussed in this permit. The combined cumulative adverse impacts to our communities from all uranium legacy sources of pollution must be considered by NMED and other state and federal regulators in order to achieve environmental justice for our communities.

  • Also not discussed in this permit is the fact that the background for the Upper Chinle, Middle Chinle, and Lower Chinle aquifers is entirely inappropriate. These aquifers dip in a different direction than the alluvial aquifer at the site. While there is still no proof that even the alluvial aquifer has been impacted by activities upstream in the Ambrosia Lake area, there is certainly no reason to set Chinle aquifer background based on alluvial calculations. In fact, upstream wells are available for showing what the background of the Chinle aquifers should be. It is outrageous that the community must point this out to NMED. The background for these aquifers MUST be reset and should be addressed before DP-200 is approved.


Steve and I know we have just wasted important hours of our life in writing these nine pages of comments. However, once more, we ask the NMED to reject this permit until Homestake-Barrick Gold addresses the deficiencies noted above. We also ask that NMED require Homestake-Barrick Gold to:

  1. Halt the flushing and moving the tailings piles to a safe, permanent repository.

  2. Build and operate enough reverse osmosis that while the piles are being removed and after they are gone, the remaining water can be cleaned to safe drinking water standards.

  3. Restore our water fully and compensate our community for what they have taken from us, not only in terms of water but also lost property value and past and future health effects that remain unacknowledged, unmeasured, and can never be recovered.


Sincerely,

Steve Dylla

Candace Head-Dylla

#6 Ridgerunner Rd., Murray Acres

Grants, NM 87020


Cc: Scott Verhines, NM Office of the State Engineer

Ron Curry, EPA Administrator, Region 6

Mark Purcell, EPA Superfund Division (6SF-TR)

John T. Buckley, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

David Schafer, Department of Energy/Legacy Management Report to U.S. Congress

Senator Martin Heinrich

Senator Tom Udall

Representative Steven Pearce

Representative Ray Ben Lujan, Jr.

Representative Ken Martinez


1 BVDA contends that at least one monitoring station the NMED used in 1979 and 1980—the one north of the Large Tailings Pile—was set in an area already influenced by radon emanating from the LTP. These background levels are found in a report by Buhl, T., Millard, J., Baggett, D. and Trevathan, S. (1985). Radon and Radon Decay Product Concentrations in New Mexico’s Uranium Mining and Milling District. Santa Fe: New Mexico Environmental Improvement Division.


 

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