Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Decades after uranium mining companies have gone, Navajo pay the price in cancer

For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer  and other diseases.

The radioactivity at the former mine is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors

Navajos continue to be exposed to high levels of radioactivity in the form of uranium and its decay products, like radon and radium. Those materials are known to cause health problems, including bone, liver, breast and lung cancer ……

most of the mining companies that operated on the reservation have long since gone out of business

Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous NYT, By LESLIE MACMILLAN, March 31, 2012 CAMERON, Ariz. — In the summer of 2010, a Navajo cattle rancher named Larry Gordy stumbled upon an abandoned uranium mine in the middle of his grazing land and figured he had better call in the feds. Engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency  arrived a few months later, Geiger counters in hand, and found radioactivity levels that buried the needles on their equipment.

The abandoned mine here, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon, joins the list of hundreds of such sites identified across the 27,000 square miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation’s nuclear weapons  program.

For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer  and other diseases.

The radioactivity at the former mine is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors and other serious health damage, according to Lee Greer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. Two days of exposure at the Cameron site would expose a person to more external radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers safefor an entire year .

The E.P.A. filed a report on the rancher’s find early last year and pledged to continue its environmental review. But there are still no warning signs or fencing around the secluded and decaying site. Crushed beer cans and spent shell casings dot the ground, revealing that the old mine has become a sort of toxic playground.

“If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive,” said Doug Brugge , a public health professor at Tufts University medical school and an expert on uranium. “The site is remote, but there are obviously people spending time on it. Don’t they deserve some concern?”

Navajo advocates, scientists and politicians are asking the same question.

The discovery came in the midst of the largest federal effort to date to clean up uranium mines on the vast Indian reservation. A hearing  in 2007 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led to a multiagency effort to assess and clean up hundreds of structures on the reservation through a five-year plan that ends this year.

Yet while some mines have been “surgically scraped” of contamination and are impressive showpieces for the E.P.A., others, like the Cameron site, are still contaminated. Officials at the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy attribute the delay to the complexity of prioritizing mine sites. Some say it is also about politics and money.

“The government can’t afford it; that’s a big reason why it hasn’t stepped in and done more,” said Bob Darr, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. “The contamination problem is vast.”

If the government can track down a responsible party, he said, it could require it to pay for remediation. But most of the mining companies that operated on the reservation have long since gone out of business, Mr. Darr said.

To date, the E.P.A., the Department of Energy and other agencies have evaluated 683 mine sites on the land and have selected 34 structures and 12 residential yards for remediation. The E.P.A. alone has spent $60 million on assessment and cleanup.

Cleaning up all the mines would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Clancy Tenley, a senior E.P.A. official who oversees the uranium legacy program for the agency in the Southwest…..

Meanwhile, Navajos continue to be exposed to high levels of radioactivity in the form of uranium and its decay products, like radon and radium. Those materials are known to cause health problems, including bone, liver, breast and lung cancer ……

In trailers and cinder-block dwellings on the Navajo reservation, there is deep cynicism and apprehension about the federal effort. “That’s what they want you to see: something that’s all nice and cleaned up,” said the Navajo manager of a hotel near the Skyline mine. He asked not to be identified, saying that he had already come under government scrutiny for collecting water samples from the San Juan River for uranium testing at a private lab.

For some Navajos, the uranium contamination is all of a piece with their fraught relationship with the federal government.

“They’re making excuses, and they’ve always made excuses,” Ms. Knorr said. “The government should have had a law in place that told these mining companies: you clean up your mess when you leave.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/us/uranium-mines-dot-navajo-land-neglected-and-still-perilous.html

April 2, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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