Monticello millsite and cleanup effort still impacts local community

by David Boyle
News Director
Monticello City Council members heard reports from the Office of Legacy Management and San Juan Public Health related to the cleanup, monitoring and health impacts of the former Monticello uranium Mill Site at their May 14 meeting.
Members of the Monticello City Council heard a report on the old Monticello Mill Site on the south end of town from the US Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management.
Alison Kuhlman acts as the site manager for the old Monticello Mill Site, Kuhlman gave a background on the mill noting it was built in 1941 by the US government to produce vanadium, with uranium also produced at the mill following WWII as part of the Cold War effort up until the mill was closed in 1960.
After the mill was dismantled in 1964, an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of contaminated materials were dispersed off-site throughout the City of Monticello through natural processes like precipitation and wind, but also due to a lack of knowledge of the risk of using materials for items such as road base, cement, foundations and other projects throughout Monticello.
In 1989, the site was declared a superfund site with cleanup beginning in 1992, and continuing through 2001.
Today, the site continues to operate and maintain a disposal evaporation cell located south of the former mill site, as well as monitor water quality restoration, and operate the pump and treat groundwater system.
The Office of Legacy Management employees also answered questions about the continued risk of exposure.
While the office pumps and treats contaminated groundwater at the site the office also shared that their models report risk limits are not exceeded by being in proximity to the wetlands or consuming wild game or livestock that use the water, however prolonged human consumption of water does pose a risk.
While average uranium concentration in groundwater fell at a rapid rate from 2014 to 2018 that has flatlined around 200µg/L above the target 30 µg/L.
Groundwater also continues to be monitored and a feasibility report sharing development, screening and evaluation of remedial alternatives for achieving the office’s objectives for the area is under development and should be ready for regulatory review in June.
Members of the city council also heard a report from San Juan Public Health regarding the mill site.
Public Health Director Grant Sunada and the new Monticello Cancer Program Coordinator Bridget Horrocks outlined once again the recently refunded cancer screening funding program for people who lived in Monticello for at least three years between 1941 and 2001. 
Funded currently from 2023-2026 by the Health Resources & Services Administration, the program provides vouchers for individuals to receive free cancer screenings as early detection of cancer drastically increases positive outcomes. 
Residents of Monticello during that nearly 60-year period have seen an increased risk of certain cancers developing due to the former uranium mill site before it was cleaned up by the EPA.
Sunada also noted that current uranium milling and mining operations in the US operate under different, very stringent regulations.
For people who lived in Monticello between 1941 and 2001, receiving the voucher is done by filling out an online forum at or by calling the department at 435-587-3838.
Once issued, vouchers are used to cover what is not covered by users insurance including co-pays and complete payment for those without insurance.
The health screening, done at any health clinic in the US, should include looking for Hematologic, Lymph System, Pulmonary, Renal and Stomach cancers.
San Juan Public Health also asks users of the program to share information from their visits, while the funding currently doesn’t cover cancer treatments, compiling information could lead to continuation of the program.
At the presentation the health department also shared that as of December 2023 116 vouchers had been processed, with 78 (or 67 percent) of those vouchers used in San Juan County. Another 23 vouchers were processed elsewhere in Utah, with seven vouchers in other Four Corners states and eight elsewhere in the US.
Sunada also shared they are working to increase outreach for the program, including contracting with a firm to help market the program. At the meeting it was also suggested reachout using recently released 1950 census data, old yearbooks and social media to reach out.
Mayor Bayley Hedglin noted that for funding to continue the local community will need to use this potential life-saving resource. Hedglin noted a state health department report in 2022 that claimed no higher instances of cancer in San Juan County.
“I will fight that, everyone sitting here has multiple stories of family members that have been impacted. If you lived here, go get tested.”
Members of the Monticello City Council also approved an update to the city’s lease of a precision lawn mower for the Hideout Golf Course. 
City Manager Kaeden Kulow explained the difference of the lease would provide a diesel motor which would last longer and be ready to send to the city as soon as possible, which did come at the cost of raising the price by $8,000.
Still, Kulow noted that the golf course is doing well and as the fiscal year winds down is closer to operating in the black. 
Members of the council approved the update to the lease agreement for a new lawn mower for the golf course.
Members of the city council also held a public hearing for the city budget, and discussed annual cost of living adjustments. The Utah retirement system is changing to require a larger percentage of income from employees to go towards retirement benefits.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
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