ALBUQUERQUE - The effort to clean up contaminants from a tailings pile at the abandoned Homestake uranium mill in northern New Mexico is moving too slowly, say homeowners living near the Superfund site.
The site's owner says it expects to have the area near Milan, about 50 miles west of Albuquerque, cleaned up by 2020, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Sixty-two area landowners who filed a class-action lawsuit in 1983 alleged that Homestake had known for years that uranium and other toxins were leaching into groundwater. State officials warned residents in 1975 not to use well water for any purpose.
Homestake Mining Co. settled the lawsuit in 1983 under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Homestake agreed to extend Milan's water system to homes near the tailings pile and to pay for their water until 1995.
By then, Homestake assured residents, the groundwater would be cleaned up and the wells safe to use.
"Everybody worked for the uranium industry, so everybody assumed the company would take care of you," said Mark Head, who bought a house in the neighborhood in 1987.
An official for site owner Barrick Gold Corp. said the company is using established techniques to remove uranium and other contaminants from the tailings pile.
Meanwhile, another concern has cropped up: An EPA report released in June showed that airborne radon from the site puts residents at some heightened risk of cancer. But the report also notes that radon levels should improve after the groundwater remediation efforts are complete and a permanent covering is placed over the tailings pile.
Homeowners say they don't want to wait. Earlier this month, they told a top EPA official that decades of remediation efforts have failed and that the federal agency should buy out homeowners or relocate the tailings pile.
Homestake milled uranium ore at the site from 1958 to 1990. Barrick, of Toronto, Canada, acquired Homestake in 2001 as a wholly owned subsidiary.
Today, the site contains two unlined tailings piles that cover a combined 255 acres and contain an estimated 22 million tons of processed uranium ore tailings, according to the EPA.
The EPA estimated in 2011 that some 3 billion gallons of contaminated water had been extracted since 1977.