Navajo govt business contaminates small rural Navajo community with cancer-causing chemicals, 11:50 am, 10.18.22

Greetings Relatives/Frens/Humans, and it is 11:50 am, 10.18.22, and the Navajo Council is debating LEGISLATION 0110-22, which seeks Council allocation of $5 million from the Navajo Nation Síhasin Fund for the Assessment and Remediation of the Former Navajo Forest Products Industry in Navajo, NM; Approving the Related Expenditure Plan Pursuant to 12 N.N.C. § 2501 – §2508 (2/3).
SPONSOR: Resources & Development Committee member Wilson C. Stewart, Jr. and Budget & Finance Committee Vice Chairman Raymond Smith Jr.
FYI – Navajo Forest Products Industry was a Navajo government enterprise that Totally Lacked Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Oversight when it operated the lumber mill for eight years, and the Navajo EPA reported to the Navajo Council that the ground, Black Water Creek, and other water ways are contaminated with cancer-causing pollutants. Navajo Council Delegates Stewart & Smith & Navajo EPA Failed to Report that it was a Navajo government enterprise/business that contaminated lands, water and air of the former NFPI site and Navajo NM, which is where NFPI operated.

Budget & Finance Committee member Amber Kanazbah Crotty, once again, was the lone voice pushing for Navajo government enterprises/businesses to be held environmentally and financially Accountable.

According to 0110-22, “Navajo Forestry Products Industry, History of Known Environmental Violations,” NFPI operated for 8 years before there was a Nation EPA and 10 years be ore the establishment of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Commission.
Due to their standard operating procedures (SOP), NFPI had multiple unpermitted Discharges and Violations of The Clean Water Act
Since the inception of the USEPA in 1970, NTUA had sludge management issues in their sewer lagoons due to the waste water from NFPI containing chemicals to precipitate impurities out of boiler water. Where did they put the dredged sludge? Sampling will be needed in that location.
During discussions with Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), NFPI admitted that they discharge into the NTUA sewer lagoons but NOT in to Black Creek.
USEPA field inspection staff observed discharge From the leaking underground pipe From the power plant/cooling towers Flowing into Black Creek. Environmental problems arise when water escapes from a boiler system in the form of droplets from the cooling towers, the boiler piping, and the connecting pipes between power generation plants and cooling towers.
Such water droplets carry with them the various chemicals that are used in the system. Some of these chemicals are environmentally harmful. NFPI used descalants, precipitants, algicides, acids and other chemicals in their boiler water.
Hexavalent chromium is the one that is of the most concern and warrants immediate attention. Hexavalent chromium-based compounds are among the most efficient and cheapest corrosion inhibitors available. Hexavalent chromium is a known carcinogen, and is highly toxic.

  1. Because Black Creek and it’s tributary have been and are CURRENTLY eroding the facility dump,
  2. Because of the quantity and diversity of the chemicals (including mercury and formaldehyde) used in the various processes of a sawmill and particle board manufacturing operation and the SOP of the industries of the day with regards to containment and disposal of such chemicals.
  3. Because of the myriad of drainage ditches and underground pipes across the site and their potential for leakage,
  4. Because of the underground pipe drainages that bypassed the lagoons and drained straight into the wash below Red Lake Dam,
  5. Because of the facility discharging all waste water and boiler blowdown water directly into:
    • Black Creek,
    • The wash below the dam, and
    • The NTUA sewer lagoons
    ALL sediments are suspect for RCRA Metals, Hexavalent Chromium, Formaldehyde, Asbestos, and other hazardous, toxic, and carcinogenic substances in the following specific areas:
    • Black Creek above and below the diversion dam extending a mile and a half east along the facility dump,
    • The fenced-in facility compound,
    • The former sewer lagoons located in the wash below Red Lake,
    • The wash below Red Lake for a distance yet to be determined, and
    • The lake bed of Red Lake
    Black Creek. which is actively eroding the open dump, is used to fill Red Lake. As late as 2004, Red Lake had a Do Not Eat the Fish advisory because of the levels of Mercury in the fish.
    • The lake was drained because of dam structure issues.
    • The sediments were not sampled and the lake is being filled back up and stocked with fish.
    • Lake water is used for irrigation.
    • The lake is used for recreation.
    • Livestock drink the water of Black Creek.
    NFPI Contamination Details
    Previous to 1997 contamination was the result of the SOP of the industry and the disregard for environmental laws. Since 1997, environmental impacts throughout the site have occurred because of the chemicals abandoned on site being released into the environment by acts of vandalism and/or aging containers.
    • A green powdery semisolid substance discovered in a heap of debris when its packaging deteriorated tested as Chromium Aluminum Compound
    • There was an unknown waste material photographed near the particleboard building discharging an oily, discolored liquid
    Former workers provided information regarding the urea formaldehyde deliveries at the site occurring around the clock with deliveries by tractor trailer tanker.

“Petroleum Groundwater Contamination and Soil Contamination Comingled with Asbestos”
Current Surface-Area of Petroleum Groundwater Contamination approximately 2 acres (as of 2018). The shallow aquifer is at 18 to 20 feet below ground surface. Two feet of Diesel fuel floating on top of the groundwater had been reduced to an inch or less by 2018. Fuel is likely reaccumulating since the initial reduction since there has been no remediation activity at the site due to the pandemic and lack of funding to hire a remediation contractor.
There are approximately 22,000 cubic yards of heavily contaminated source soil “bleeding” diesel and gasoline into the groundwater.
Asbestos is comingled in the petroleum contaminated soil to a depth of at least 2 feet in a large portion of that soil making any cleanup plan very complicated.

“NFPI Current Surface Debris, Miscellaneous Chemical Drums, and Totes
Surface Asbestos”
There are large diameter asbestos fiber concrete pipe (Transite pipe) fragments at the powerplant location and the cooling towers location.
• There are broken off sections of Transite pipe throughout the site present in the broken up concrete slabs.
• Scattered fragments of Transite pipe litter the ground is various areas.
• The remaining underground piping for fire suppression and other transport of fluids throughout the 100 acre facility is suspected to be Transite piping since most industrial piping from that era was Transite.

Transite roofing material and asbestos-containing tar and built-up roofing materials from kiln roof are scattered all over the site.
Vinyl Asbestos Tile flooring material has been scraped into piles in areas of the site and has been scattered by the wind, animals, and vandals. Asbestos fibrous roofing material from various facility roofs is also present on the ground over much of the site.
Asbestos containing gaskets and fragments thereof are present in many areas of the site. There are very few areas of the site that do not have asbestos present and visible at the surface.
There are steel and poly drums, both labeled and unlabeled on site:
• Transformer Oil
• Premium Hydraulic oil
• Saw-Glide
There is a 250 gallon tank of ferrous chloride solution on site. Ferrous chloride solution requires a two person haz-mat team with air supplied respirators to even sample it to see if that is what is really in the container.
There are extra large piles of heaped up debris on site; one that has steel drums of unknown content beneath it.
There are piles of the remains of all of the concrete foundations and slabs, some of which may be contaminated by boiler system water deposits.
The amount of metal littering the site left over from building removal is enormous.

“NFPI Mile Long Facility Dump: a Public Health Hazard”
The facility open dump extends more than a mile up Black Creek. The high wall at the farthest, most recently active end of the dump, is about 80 feet tall and-150 YARDS wide. The dump extends through the canyon along Old Rte. 31 (a dirt road north of the facility) past a tributary that feeds into Black Creek one mile east of the facility. There is waste material on both sides of Old Rte. 31 and both sides of the tributary with an erosional channel cut by the tributary.
The portion of the waste on the north side of Old Rte. 31 is actively being eroded by Black Creek.Run off and water percolating down through an open dump leach out chemical elements that recombine to form more toxic contaminates than were placed into the dump. This erosion of the open dump is a public health hazard.
Physical Hazards
The Particle board press sump is roughly 80′ X 25′ and is 12 feet deep at the edges with vertical sides. No ladders or other means of egress are to be seen in the sides. The sump is more than 30 feet deep in the center. This sump always has water in it.
There is a greasy slimy sheen on top of the water. There is dark oil staining of the concrete and soil along the southern and western edges of the sump. It is reported that the people who purchased the machinery dumped all of the oils and fluids out on the bank behind the building before hauling. This area is stained a dark black and is at the top of the embankment for Navajo Rte. 12.
There is another smaller sump of unknown depth in the same slab. It is nearly full of smelly black soil and stunted plants. When it has water in it visible, there is a rainbow sheen on top of the black water indicating oils of some kind.
The walls of the waste shavings building are balanced precariously on the slab and are falling over. One is supported by a T-post only. These walls are a favorite of the graffiti artists.

The following is a news story by High Country News regarding NFPI; “After a heavy harvest and a death, Navajo forestry realigns with culture,” by Ernie Atencio. Published on Oct. 31, 1994.

NAVAJO, N.M. – On the austere, high-desert plateau of the Navajo Nation, the Chuska Mountains rise unexpectedly, an oasis of alpine forests and crystal-clear lakes. For centuries the Chuskas have been the source of building materials, game animals and grazing land, a place to gather medicinal herbs and spiritual strength.

But in the past four years, amid allegations of overcutting and murder, the Chuskas have also become the source of bitter hostilities between the tribe’s logging operation and traditional residents.

Change has been difficult but it seems to be arriving. The tribal sawmill, which is said to support 2,500 people when extended families of loggers are considered, has been shut down temporarily and the tribe has announced a new regime of forest management based on concern for the ecosystem.

Standing in this sawmill town and waving his hand toward the dark hump on the horizon that is the Chuska range, Earl Tulley explains, “These are sacred mountains, the male deity” in the Navajo tribal pantheon.

Tulley, an employee of the Navajo Housing Authority, is one leader of Diné CARE, the environmental group that has gathered support for a vision of preserving old-growth forest and traditional values. “When unethical harvesting of trees is infringing on the health of the land, on sacred mountains,” he says, “then we have to protect it.”

Tulley and others suspect conspiracy and cover-up surrounding the death last October of Diné CARE co-founder Leroy Jackson (see accompanying story). Jackson’s death has been ruled accidental, but many think otherwise. “A lot of people had their hands in this particular till (the flow of money around logging),” says Tulley, “and they didn’t want to lose it.”

While lamenting the stridency of Navajo environmentalists – -It’s “do or die” to them’ – Robert Billie, director of tribal forestry, allows simply, “We could not continue as before. We had to pause.”

An Anglo forester’s perspective

Significant cutting of old-growth ponderosa pines in the Navajo forest during the 1980s led to the pause. Before the 1980s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had a more direct hand in managing the forests and cutting was fairly light, says Dexter Gill, an Anglo who directed tribal forestry from 1982 until last year; it was his regime that got into controversy.

Over time, Navajo forests had built up a preponderance of 200- to 400-year-old pines that were vulnerable to insects and disease and needed to be cut and put to use, Gill says. During the 1980s, the tribe took over management of forests and conducted the first systematic inventory and began to cut in earnest. One primary purpose, Gill says, was to create jobs and a logging economy on the reservation.

During the 1980s, the cut was increased to about 36 million board-feet a year – which the forest could more than support through growth and regeneration, Gill says. Not everyone agreed. In 1990, when a timber sale took much of the old growth and thinned thickets of saplings in Tsaile Canyon, several families living in the canyon became active in Diné CARE (in Navajo, Diné means “The People,” and in English, CARE stands for Citizens Against Ruining our Environment).

The logging in Tsaile Canyon “was a traumatic change aesthetically” in the landscape, Gill says. “But to me, as a forester, it was beautiful. To me it was a dying forest and now (with the saplings thinned and the overstory removed), it’s a growing forest.”

Diné CARE organized against another big timber sale, appealing it to the BIA, which retained oversight. The appeal resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the volume of timber to be cut in the sale.

“That was the first appeal of a timber sale the BIA ever had filed against it, anywhere,” Gill says. Continued Diné CARE pressure led to a 66 percent reduction in the next timber cut.

“Tribal politics couldn’t handle the concept of pressure groups,” says Gill, who now lives in Gallup, N.M. “The Navajo concept is that everybody should have a consensus before going ahead. Once it became a cultural issue, that was it.”

Saving a forest strangles a mill

Diné CARE paid for forest studies that contradicted the studies the tribe had done; the environmentalists said the Navajo forests could support only one-third the annual cut of the 1980s and that during the decade, Navajo forests had been cut more intensively than any other forests in the Southwest.

Forest residents said wildlife and plant communities were suffering. “We used to have ponds and beavers,” recalls Adella Begaye, Leroy Jackson’s widow. “We no longer hear the songbirds, and the medicine people can’t even find all the plants they used to.”

As timber sales on the reservation were scaled back, the Navajo sawmill – operating as Navajo Forest Products Industries – was also forced to scale back. The mill required larger infusions of funding from the tribe, amassing a $14 million debt and triggering an audit, and there were efforts to buy timber from off the reservation and have it trucked to the mill for processing.

“It was ill-planning and arrogance.” says Tulley of Diné CARE. “They (mill operators and backers, including three members of the Navajo Tribal Council who also sat on the mill’s board of directors) saw this train wreck coming a long time.”

At least 600 Navajos worked at the mill during its prime, living in company houses in the company town of Navajo. Nearly 15 years ago, long before there were activists or environmental regulations to blame it on, NFPI started laying off workers. By 1991 the workforce had dwindled to 300; about 125 people were working at the mill when it shut down July 25.

As Diné CARE pushed for the enforcement of federal environmental laws, the BIA refused to approve any further timber sales until a new 10-year forest management plan could be agreed upon, paralyzing the timber program.

Today, only 20 people, mostly managers, are still at work at the mill. Once-bustling neighborhoods in Navajo stand empty and windswept. “A boomtown gone bust,” Diné CARE described it in a letter to Navajo President Peterson Zah. “The unfortunate thing is, this beligaana-style (Anglo) phenomena took place on Indian lands.”

Thomas Boyd, chairman of NFPI’s board of directors, did not return any calls for this story. NFPI director Ed Richards accused this reporter of being “another one of those people trying to make this into an environmental story” and hung up.

In an interview with the Navajo Times, Richards blamed environmentalists for the shutdown but also conceded that the 38-year-old mill may be obsolete. He wanted to invest more of the tribe’s money in building a smaller, modern mill.

It seems likely that the Navajo timber program will re-emerge, but in a more modest form.

The first real study of impacts

The same environmental laws that apply to national forests also apply to forests on reservations, says Billie, the new director of tribal forestry. “We are a sovereign nation, but we are subject to federal law,” he says. Also there are general tribal laws about conservation of resources, Billie says.

But until recently, he says, timber cutting was getting preference over other forest values, possibly in violation of such environmental laws.

Compliance with federal environmental laws has amounted to “just more or less going through the motions,” says John Martin, a tribal member and resource specialist for the BIA.

“There definitely has not been an honest attempt by the BIA to foster the intent of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act),” Martin says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some timber sales (before the recent controversy) were approved in as little as 10 minutes.”

Billie now talks in terms of ecosystems and says the tribe has “embarked on a new direction of integrated forest management – all forest resources being considered.”

The change, he says, came out of “an assessment, not only from environmentalists, but from the professionals here in tribal forestry,” with a nudge from President Zah. “Diné CARE takes full credit but there was a general shift in environmental awareness on the reservation.”

Billie says that modern forestry reflects traditional Navajo values. “My grandfather was a medicine man, and taught me that you do not use anything to excess. So when I learned about integrated resource management and multiple use, I thought, yeah, I know this stuff.”

Tribal foresters are putting together the first environmental impact study of the timber program, as well as a new 10-year plan that will reflect the new priorities – two moves that Diné CARE had urged. Both studies are to be completed by next year, but Gill, the former head of tribal forestry, says he understands that the annual timber cut on the reservation will be reduced by about 50 percent.

An environmental study must also take into account the threatened Mexican spotted owl, not only as an indicator species but also because the owl is revered as a sacred messenger that warns of danger, says Tulley of Diné CARE.

An impact statement could open an avenue for legal challenges to natural resource management on Indian lands, says Martin of the BIA. On the other hand, he says, many federal environmental regulations are probably not appropriate for reservations.

The BIA increasingly promotes Indian self-determination, says Martin, and the Navajo Nation should develop its own culturally appropriate environmental regulations.

Tribes around the country are seeking just such freedom, cooperating to draft a National Indian Forest Management Act that Congress will be asked to approve, Billie says.

“We have sacred laws that a lot of us live by,” says Begaye, “but the Navajo Nation has very few written laws, so federal laws are the only handle we have.”

In recent months, unemployed loggers and mill workers fed up with NFPI management have thrown in with Diné CARE. Fourteen community chapters around the Chuskas tired of watching their forests topple have passed resolutions in support of the group. Even a field technician with the tribal forestry department was spotted in a Diné CARE T-shirt.

Diné CARE’s grass roots are growing stronger and seem less willing to bend.

In the wake of her husband’s mysterious death, it will be difficult for Adella Begaye to compromise at all. She says that any reform of the Navajo timber industry will be too little, too late. Navajo forests have already suffered too much abuse, she says, and Diné CARE will oppose all future timber sales.

Commercial logging has played itself out and just doesn’t belong on the reservation, she says. “NFPI is not financially viable, it’s just an employment agency. Maybe they should turn that plant into something else, like a recycling center.”

Diné CARE can be reached at P.O. Box 121, Tsaile, AZ 86556.

Former HCN intern Ernie Atencio studies anthropology and writes in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ray Ring contributed to this report.

The following sidebar articles accompany this feature story:

  • ‘People of the Earth’ stress “natural laws’
  • Faith in a martyr helps the cause

Also according to LEGISLATION 0110-22, the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund/Brownfields Program, has prepared a 2021 Report explaining the serious problem of the extensive contamination of the former · NFPI area, describing the existing environmental damage, and showing the necessary scope of the cleanup project and its estimated cost. Navajo EPA details the groundwater and soil contamination, as well as the leftover surface debris, that has created a significant public health hazard in the area that needs immediate attention

2:02 pm, 10.18.22, Navajo Council Delegates Health, Education & Huan Services Committee Chairman Daniel Tso & Law & Order Committee Chairwoman Eugenia Charles-Newton motion to Table 0110-22 until the $5M Expenditure Plan is clarified based on Navajo law and no longer then 30 days.
Navajo Council votes 15 in favor, 7 opposed to Table 0110-22.
Unofficial Navajo Council voting tally:
Elmer Begay Green; Kee Allen Begay Jr. Green; Paul Begay Red: Nathaniel Brown Green; Eugenia Charles-Newton Green; Amber Kanazbah Crotty Gren; Herman M. Daniels Jr. Red; Mark Freeland Red; Pernell Halona Red: Jamie Henio Green; Vince James Green; Rickie Nez Red; Carl Slater Green; Raymond Smith Jr. Red; Wilson Stewart Jr. Red; Otto Tso Green; Charlaine Tso Green; Daniel Tso Green; Eugene Tso NoVote; Thomas Waller Jr. Green; Edison Wauneka Green; Edmund Yazzie Green; Jimmy Yellowhair Green.

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