Over several decades, uranium ore was mined in the mountains of northeastern Arizona, providing the local Navajos with much-needed employment but leaving death and disease on the reservation. Eventually, roughly 50 mine sites were abandoned without cleaning up the contaminated waste thrown over the mountainside.
The federal government announced last week that it has reached a $5.15 billion settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for the cleanup of the thousands of long-contaminated sites nationwide. Around $1 billion of that will go to the 50 sites on the country’s largest American Indian reservation. Tronox Inc., a spinoff of Kerr-McGee, left behind a long legacy of several environmental contaminations particular across the Midwest and South.
The $5.15 billion settlement is the largest ever for environmental contamination. The bulk of the money, around $4.4 billion, will pay for environmental cleanup and be used to settle claims stemming from the legacy contamination. Anadarko acquired Tronox in 2006.
“Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States with the huge cleanup bill.”
The $1 billion towards the Navajo Nation will address about 10 percent of their inventory of abandoned uranium mines, including areas of northwestern New Mexico.