US: Company testing mine to determine extent of uranium contamination

A state geologist said Thursday afternoon Rio Cinto Mining Co., also known as Sohio Western Mining, is planning to drill two water wells and sample 11 vent shafts at a former uranium mining site north of the Pueblo of Laguna.

Jerry Schoeppner, a Ground Water Quality Bureau geologist with the New Mexico Environment Department, said the mining company will be testing ground water at the site.

"In 2005, the company voluntarily sampled four of 11 vent shafts at the site and three of those came back with contamination exceeding the standards of New Mexico water quality Control Commission standards," he said.

As a result, the company is now responding to an abatement plan, Stage One, where it will sample all 11 vent shafts and drill two water wells in an effort to determine the extent of the contamination, Schoeppner said.

A vent shaft where air is blown out of a mine, or "vented out," after it is pumped into the mine for the miners to breathe.


The contaminates exceeding the state's levels were: sulfate, total dissolved solids, iron, manganese, pH, radium and uranium, he said.

While he did not immediately have numbers, he said radium and uranium were the most lethal, with manganese recently being shown to be more toxic than known before.

Radium in the soil turns to radon which causes cancer, he said.

"I am not sure what it does if it is ingested with water," he said.

Uranium is a toxic metal and is known to cause kidney problems.

Another core
He said between the JJ Number 1/L-Bar Mine, two miles north of the pueblo, where the testing is being performed, and another mine in the area, St. Anthony, there is a core of uranium that has not yet been mined.

There may be more requirements for the company to follow, Shoeppner said, depending on what the results of the additional testing shows.

The mine is about four miles southeast of Seboyeta and two miles northeast of Moquino. It was in operation from 1976 to 1981 in conjunction with the L-Bar uranium mill and a mill tailings operation, according to information provided by Shoeppner.

The mine was closed between 1986-1987.

The Cebolleta Land Grant owns the surface rights to the area where the mine is situated, about 600 acres.

A smaller part of the surface area is owned by the U.S. Department of energy.

Public comment

After the state receives the company's cleanup plan, the public will be allowed comment for 90 days on Stage Two, which will include a proposal for remediating contamination discovered during the Stage One assessment.

A Rio Cinto company official who asked not to be named or quoted said the company would not respond to inquiries about the mine because it had not yet seen information contained in a press release issued by the state.

In any event, the company would only respond to submitted written questions with written answers when it did decide to respond.

He said that was the only way the company dealt with media in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, where the company is based.

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