This image was taken using a High Definition monitoring camera located near WCR 96 and WCR 13 looking east towards Nunn (left) and Ault (right) during a typical
late afternoon thunderstorm microburst wind event (late June, 2009). Shown is a cloud of soil and dust made airborne by wind gusts of ~ 50 mph. Such winds are common in Weld County, occurring on average about twice monthly.
cloud, at the leading edge of a thunderstorm, is approximately 10 miles long (not all
shown) and over 2000 ft in height. Large amounts of loose dust or soil matter are often
lofted by such winds and carried tens or even hundreds of miles. Indeed, Colorado dust
plumes have been tracked by satellite into adjacent states.
Surface soil particles contaminated by tailings from well drillings or from the dried
residue of drilling fluids can potentially be carried great distances. Smaller particles
(under 10 microns) can be ingested into lungs and nasal passages. Larger particles will
deposit on crop and pasturelands, gardens, rivers and reservoirs for many miles
ANY surface soil contaminated by radionuclide and heavy metals has the potential to
become airborne unless strict remedial measures are undertaken. The spraying of
contaminated drilling fluids on grasslands can leave a residue of dust available for
lofting by winds. Or, in the case of a grass fire, the small particles will then become part
of the smoke plume which can also travel for tens of miles.
These smoke particles will
likely be in a size range easily ingested in lungs (thus U308 can be inhaled into and
deposited in lung tissue thereafter to emit alpha radiation into sensitive tissues.)
Walter A. Lyons, Ph.D. (Weld County taxpayer)
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Past President, American Meteorological Society
President, National Council of Industrial Meteorologists
Past Chair, AMS Meteorological Aspects of Air Pollution Committee
Consultant to US EPA, US NRC, NOAA, NSF, NASA, DOE and the nuclear power industry.
For more information on uranium mining's hazardous wastes, click here.