Native Sun News: Cleanup addresses sacred sites in South Dakota

Some 30 people attended a U.S. Forest Service public hearing in Ludlow on Oct. 21, about new cleanup efforts at abandoned uranium mines upstream from Indian reservations. Photo by Talli Nauman

Mine cleanup to reduce cancer risk at sacred sites upstream from Plains tribes
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

LUDLOW –– The U.S. Forest Service announced a new 2016 Action Plan this June for the $63 million cleanup of hazardous abandoned uranium mine waste at Riley Pass, located in the midst of significant Cave Hills' petroglyph sites and at the headwaters of the Missouri River.

The Forest Supervisor, through a special order, has closed the 12 bluffs that make up the 1950s mining area, as well as some adjacent land, to all public entry due to the human health, safety and environmental concerns related to elevated levels of dangerous substances. The Riley Pass mine waste contains arsenic, molybdenum, thorium, radium and uranium.

“We’re trying to get all that contamination cleaned up and getting ready to go,” said the Forest Service’s On-Scene Coordinator Mary Beth Marks. “We’ve decided we’re not gonna leave a hotspot for any reason, whether to save a big tree or anything,” she said.

The Sioux Ranger District has posted “keep out” signs throughout the North Cave Hills, so ancient petroglyphs and modern ceremonial sites -- among them the revered rock-art repository of Ludlow Cave – are off-limits to humans in South Dakota’s northwestern county of Harding.

The EPA has developed preliminary remediation goals intended to protect human health and the environment around the site.

“The reason why we’re cleaning this up is because cancer risks are high,” said engineer Aaron Orechwa.

Since 2012, his firm Tetra Tech has helped sample the area for heavy metals and radioactive elements, in order to proceed with further cleanup. He found radiation hotspots that had not been surveyed because they are in areas with a lot of vegetation, he said.

Another discovery he made is that arsenic still exists well outside the areas where radioactive waste materials have been brought under control. The two elements formerly were thought to be only in shared spots.

The new 2016 Action Memorandum replaces two previous memoranda in use since the mine waste isolation and reclamation project began in 2006.

The memo calls for “natural landform mine reclamation” to restore the pre-mining hydrology, topography and productivity of the land at all study areas mapped in a 2015 Waste Evaluation Characterization Report.

Read the rest of the story on the all new Native Sun News website: Mine cleanup to reduce cancer risk at sacred sites upstream from Plains tribes

(Contact Talli Nauman at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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