By Doug McMurdo
A video purportedly showing potentially radioactive dust blowing from the Moab UMTRA site north of the city prompted a visit from Russell McCallister when the Grand County Council met Tuesday.
McCallister, the federal cleanup director for the Moab UMTRA — Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action — assured the council workers at the site strive to abate dust, primarily through spraying water on the roads and property where uranium tailings, a legacy of Moab’s former mining economy, are being hauled from the Colorado River site to Crescent Junction for permanent disposal.
“My mission is to do everything I can to suppress dust,” said McCallister.
He noted there were various sources for dust, including Grand County roads and areas on the site that are not contaminated. “We spray water as much as we can,” he said, adding there is a 15 mph maximum speed allowed on site.
He said workers have applied a coating of nonradioactive material on roads and when the wind reaches a certain speed or certain levels of dust are in the air, they make sure they don’t exceed acceptable levels.
He noted high winds might curtail activity and that the prevailing wind at the site flows to the northwest away from Moab.
Workers hold meetings at 3 p.m. to plan the next day’s activity and the forecast is always a part of that conversation, said McCallister. There is a network of air monitoring stations that produce significant data. “I want to get it as low as I possibly can,” he said.
Resident Mike Adkison during the Citizens to be Heard portion of the meeting urged the county council to ask the Department of Energy to improve the manner in which it samples the air at the site, saying the current system is cumulative and not done in “real time.”
Another concern is the presence of ammonia, another legacy of mining.
“Ammonia and uranium are the two things to worry about,” said McCallister. Ammonia was used during the mining phase to neutralize the acid in uranium.
He said elevated levels of ammonia were detected in August. They reached the chronic level, but not acute. The difference he said in response to a question from Chair Mary McGann is that acute exposure results in immediate harm to humans or fish and chronic exposure would cause harm over a period of time.
The channel was diluted and fresh water was diverted.
Odd odors are another issue. McCallister said a worker operating a bulldozer uncovered material with an odor about 18 months ago. The worker had a headache and the source of the smell has not been determined. The likely suspect, he said, was some type of industrial solvent.
“There’s a lot of stuff buried there we don’t necessarily know about,” said McCallister. “Once we get rid of the pile our problems go away.”
“This is why it is so important to get the pile moved away from Moab as soon and as efficiently as possible,” said McGann.