Few companies have done more to poison the West than Kerr-McGee, the energy producer that once operated 50 uranium mines on the Navajo Nation – sickening thousands of miners and residents with lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and other illnesses related to radiation. In 1997, California water district officials discovered that a Kerr-McGee plant in Nevada was also leaking perchlorate into Lake Mead and the Colorado River ("Cold War toxin seeps into Western water," HCN, 4/28/03).
At last, the company is being forced to make amends. On April 3, the Justice Department reached a $5.1 billion settlement with Anadarko Petroleum, the Texas oil giant that acquired Kerr-McGee in 2006 – the largest environmental contamination settlement in U.S. history. Though less than the $20 billion or so the government sought, the funds will help: $1 billion will clean up abandoned uranium mines around the Navajo Nation, and another $1.1 billion will go toward detoxing the Lake Mead site.