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Radiation hot spots north of Globe

Posted: Wednesday, Jan 27th, 2010

ROOSEVELT — Officials of the Tonto National Forest are preparing to clean up some of the old Uranium mining sites used in the 1950’s at Workman Creek Northeast of Roosevelt Lake. The federal agency is budgeting some $1.5 million dollars for the project. The work is being proposed for next year if the monies are funded.

According to Tonto National Forest spokesperson Anne P. Fischer, there is not going to be a whole lot of disturbance here but, “we will be making the area safer for the public.”

Plans are to completely close up the dozen or so old uranium mine tunnels that were left open more than a half century ago by prospectors and miners. Fischer said some of the roads to the tunnel areas or adits which have been used by ATV users are being rerouted for safety reasons. “We don’t want people falling in a mine shaft,” she remarked.

In addition, two small radiation “hot spots” at the Workman Creek Campgrounds will be removed. The campgrounds are 37 air miles North of Globe. Fischer, who is the On Scene Coordinator of Hazardous Materials for the Tonto Forest, described the “hot spots” as being about 10 feet in diameter.

“What we discovered is these small areas appear to have been ore staging areas ... so you have remnants of uranium ore they stockpiled probably from the 1950’s mining which were very, very localized.”

On one of the mine tunnel roads proposed for closure by the Tonto Forest, there is a very wide area. Fischer describes this section of the old roadway as “where we can safely contain here what is dug out from the campground hot spots ... there is not that much material.”

When the Tonto National Forest first discovered the spots containing external gamma radiation, “we immediately changed the use of the Workman Creek campgrounds to day use ... no overnight camping to cut the risk of anybody camping on it.” Fischer said it is believed that no one ever camped on these spots because of their location.

The Tonto National Forest Headquarters in Phoenix is presently conducting what is called a CERCLA Action (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act). Fischer is now in the process of preparing an Action Memo. We are told it is like a decision document which states what the Forest Service has done, what was found, what alternatives were looked at and what the Tonto Forest is going to do.

Part of the CERCLA process calls for a search by the federal agency for potentially responsible parties and trying to find the persons who were liable for the situation (leaving open tunnels, hot spots, etc.) and are also viable.

“We have gone through this with our attorneys looking at what went on, who is still around. It has been determined we don’t have a viable and liable responsible party or parties which means the proposed clean up ($1.5 million) will be done with taxpayer dollars,” Fischer told the Silver Belt. The Westinghouse Corporation was in the area in later years (1977-1980) conducting an exploration program for uranium. However, this company didn’t do any actual mining.

“People have gone in there twice now and nobody has seriously gone after that ore body. In the meantime, we got a lot of public coming in there and recreating. We can’t leave it that way for the public to be exposed to it.”

For the complete article see the 01-27-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-27-2010 paper.

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