Subject: Mohawk Casino Groundwater Contamination Background Information

Forwarded By: Kanatiyosh
Date: 5 February 1999


Background/History

In November 1998, five wells were drilled at the Casino site in an attempt to provide water for the casino. Two of the wells were drilled to depths in excess of 200 feet. We hear the wells were drilled to this depth in search of an aquifer that would yield enough water for the casino. It now appears that some of the wells were drilled into bedrock and may have been drilled into a pocket of saltwater that was trapped in the bedrock. There is a 1962 United States Geological Survey report which indicates that these pockets exist in our area.

Once the saltwater entered the wells, the well driller abandoned them. We know that the well driller attempted to cap two of the wells with concrete but we do not know which wells. We also know that the concrete was not the proper way to seal the wells.

Approximately five weeks after the wells were abandoned, residents in the community of Akwesasne, located in a northeast direction from the casino site began reporting odor and taste problems in their water. Initial testing by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe's Environment Division indicated elevated levels of salinity (saltwater).

To understand what this means. Saltwater from the ocean has a salinity level of approximately 5.0 parts per trillion (ppt). Water in the gulf of the St. Lawrence has a salinity level of 3.0 ppt as it is a mixture of saltwater and freshwater. The levels of salinity in the wells of the residents in Akwesasne are ranging from the 4.0 to 8.0 ppt range.

The measurement of salinity is done with a probe and a digital readout meter. Once the elevated salinity level is found, a water sample is collected and is sent away to a laboratory for a more detailed analysis. Approximately 40 different chemical parameters are being analyzed for. These results have been a cause for concern. Approximately 12 wells have had the detailed analysis done to date. Preliminary analysis indicates that barium, strontium, beryllium, magnesium, and sodium levels are exceeding maximum contaminant levels in several of these wells. For example, the maximum level for barium in drinking water is 2.0 milligrams per liter. At least one well has a level of 2.18 milligrams per liter of barium in it.

St. Regis Mohawk Health Services officials have taken the position that all 47 wells that have been found to be contaminated with salinity should be considered contaminated with these other chemicals. They have asked the families using those 47 wells to limit their use of the water to only flushing toilets. They should not drink it, wash dishes or clothes with it, or take showers in it. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is paying to have bottled water provided to any residence that requests it in the affected area. To date, 195 families are receiving bottled water. In addition, for the families using the 47 wells, they are being provided with $20 per week for laundry washing at a nearby Laundromat, courtesy of the casino. The casino is also covering expenses for the families to use the Hart to Heart fitness center for showers.

Current Activities

The biggest challange right now is to seal the wells at the Casino site. A contractor has been brought in to assess the wells and to properly seal them. A bentonite grout must be used to seal the wells. Tommorrow, a camera will be lowered into each well to see what is in them. There is a report of a well drill bit being stuck in one of the wells. The wells that were improperly sealed must be redrilled and then sealed. Additional testing of the water quality in each well will take place. It is expected that the wells will be sealed by early next week.

Additional testing of all homes in the affected area will continue. Those that have positive results for salinity will be sampled for a more detailed analysis. Health screening are being done for blood pressure.

Longer Term Activities

It appears that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will try to extend their public water system to the affected area. Estimated cost will be about $3-4 million. The Tribal Council is in Washington, D. C. meeting with Indian Health Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs and others to get help. We should know by tommorrow afternoon if they are successful. The Tribe is also looking into installing cisterns to the homes of families using the 47 contaminated wells. The cost of this service will be approximately $10,000 to $15,000 per cistern for installation. The Tribe will then have to continuously replenish the waters in the cisterns.

Other Issues

We have learned that the casino site was used for other purposes prior to being bought. The previous owner had installed two lagoons on the site. He pumped out sludge from individual septic tanks and dumped the human waste into the lagoons at what would become the casino site. The sludge was tested and it contained elevated levels of 1,2 dichloro-benzene, a known carcinogen. It is unclear how much of the sludge was contaminated with this chemical.

When the casino was being built, casino management had the contractor for the landscaping remove the sludge from the lagoons to the contractor's property in Akwesasne. Initial testing of the sludge that has been placed in Akwesasne indicates no detectable levels of the chemical but more testing is underway.

Today, pictures surfaced which showed a number of barrels that were at the lagoon site. It is unclear what was in those barrels or what happened to them.

In addition, this past fall, approximately 10 acres of wetlands located next to the casino site were destroyed. This has violated the Clean Water Act as the required permits were not obtained.

Closing Comments

It is clear that the drilling into the saltwater was an accident. However, the actions once that happened are full of mistakes and maybe negligence. The Tribal Council has put the construction of the casino before the interests of the people. The opening of the casino is more important than following environmental laws. The casino management and Tribal Casino may have ignored their own environmental staff. Even now, the Tribal Council is saying that it is more important than ever to open the casino so that it will pay for the water line extension.

Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force
Akwesasne Mohawk Territory
via: Box 366
Rooseveltown, NY 13683

Additionally: As of 2/5/99 "We now know that at least one casino well has a high salinity level, 21.0 parts per trillion, thus confirming it as the source of the salinity contamination."


Posted by Kanatiyosh to triballaw [maintained by Nevada Indian Environmental Coalition], 5 February 1999