GRANTS, N.M.—Federal officials need to either move the waste from an abandoned uranium mill near Milan or relocate the owners of about 75 nearby homes, western New Mexico residents told a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official on Tuesday.

The Albuquerque Journal reports ( http://bit.ly/14hXzJK) that residents told Ron Curry, EPA's Region 6 administrator, Tuesday that a cluster of cancer cases in subdivisions near the Homestake Mining Co. uranium mill show a need for immediate action by the agency.

They pointed to a draft EPA report published this month showing that residents near the mill face a cancer risk 18 times higher than that considered acceptable by the EPA.

Curry met with homeowners on Tuesday at the home of Jonnie and Milt Head, who live about 2,000 feet southwest of a mile-long tailings pile left by milling operations at the site from 1958 to 1990.

At least 20 cases of cancer, including four deaths, and five cases of thyroid disease have occurred among residents who live within a mile of the sprawling Superfund site about 4 1/2 miles north of Milan.

More than a decade has passed since uranium ore was mined in New Mexico, but a Canada-based company and a Japanese partner proposed this year reopening a mine near Grants.

Residents showed Curry a "death map" showing illnesses clustered in a small area just south and west of the site.


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Art Gebeau, a retired mining engineer, said the Homestake tailings ultimately threaten water supplies in Milan, Grants and other communities. Moving the tailings pile, which he estimated at 23 million tons of material, may be essential for protecting water supplies, he said.

"Even if you bought out all the people here, where would you stop?" Gebeau asked.

Curry told about a dozen or so residents that the EPA has acted in the past to help "fence-line communities" bordering industrial sites that include relocating residents and moving tailings piles.

Curry also said he is willing to negotiate with corporate entities that own the Homestake site to help finance a remedy once a course of action is identified.

"If we got a pathway to a solution that we think is scientifically sound, that we think is beneficial to the community, the EPA is not afraid to sit down with the businesses," he said.

Curry agreed to discuss the proposals with EPA officials in Dallas within 60 days.

In 1975, the EPA found elevated levels of pollutants in area wells and said the contamination came from the Homestake mill. Evidence of groundwater contamination was first observed in 1961, according to the EPA.

Under the terms of a 1983 agreement with the EPA, Homestake hooked up homes to alternate water supplies and paid for their water use until 1995.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com