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Uranium mining is dangerous Print

by Joseph R. Scranton (Web Only Speakout)
Rocky Mountain News
February 19, 2008

Your editorial regarding legislation currently under consideration and known as House Bills 1161 and 1165 would give the impression you “disbelieve", or at a minimum, take lightly there are not only adverse, but potentially deadly consequences to in-situ uranium mining operations. On the other hand, perhaps you “believe” that current regulations related to uranium mining are adequate.

You build your case on the premise you “....asked one of the Speakout authors and the state medical society to provide examples where in-situ mining in the United States has threatened public health.....". You state “Neither gave us a satisfactory answer".

Based on the above, you end your editorial with the statement, “If we’re right, legislators know what to do with these two bills. Don’t let them become law". You don’t comment on the prospect of your being wrong. Nor do you address the issue of “uranrium” mining as a whole.

Your editorial also admits “..we don’t have the technical know-how to determine if Powertech’s Centennial Project should pass muster with federal and state regulators". Perhaps you should review the testimony provided by some people that DO have credentials regarding the by-product potential of any uranium mining operation before memorializing your “opinion".

On October 23, 2007 the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee took testimony from knowledgeable persons with first hand experience regarding “The Health and Environment Impact of Uranium Mining on the Navajo Nation".

Following are quotes from persons that provided testimony: Robert G. McSwain, Acting Director, Indian Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services; “The increased exposure to radionuclides in drinking water results in increased risks of bone cancer and changes in kidney function by direct toxicity to kidney cells. In December 2000, the U.S. EPA issued new rules regulating uranium in community water systems to reduce toxic kidney effects and the risk of cancer".

Doug Brugge, Phd in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and an MS in industrial hygiene from the Harvard School of Public Health, associate professor in the department of public health and family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“The health effects of uranium and its associated radioactive decay products and heavy metals that rise to the level of proven or near proven causal links include: 1) Radon, which causes lung cancer and in fact, it is the primary source of lung cancer among Navajo uranium miners; 2) Uranium, which as a heavy metal causes damage to the kidneys and birth defects; 3) Radium,which causes bone cancer, cancer of the nasal sinuses and mastoid air cells and leukemia; and 4) Arsenic, which causes lung and skin cancer, as well as neurotoxicity, hyperpigmentation and hyperkeratosis of the skin.

I would like to remind you, in most cases, uranium exploration and harvesting, if allowed, will occur in rural area’s that have become significantly populated over the past decade. Most of which ARE NOT serviced with municipal water, but by private wells. Wells owned by individuals that do not and will not have the ability to “monitor", nor counteract the invasion of radionuclides in their private water supplies.

I would also like to remind you, we are not dealing with the traditional arguments that accompany “mining operations". These operations are not harvesting soil, hardrock, gold, or silver, although, heaven knows even these operations create environmental and health associated problems. We are talking URANIUM, a substance so hazardous I don’t think we even KNOW ALL the adverse effects it can have on the health of persons exposed to it via airborne particles, transportation and storage of waste by-product, and the contamination of our underground water aquifers.

I’d be relatively confident you haven’t always been “right". I hope our legislators recognize you aren’t infallible, particularly on this issue, and stay the course on strenthening our mining regulations, especially as they pertain to the exploration and harvesting of uranium.

Perhaps the most applicable comment made to a reporter after the hearings was that made by Stephen Etsitty, a member of the Navajo Nation and the Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Etsitty, is fully aware of the economic potential that allowing in-situ uranium mining would provide the Navajo Nation. Yet, with that knowledge, interested parties have been denied access to initiate those operations.

Knowing the background of health related problems that occurred as a product of earlier uranium mining on Navajo Nation lands Mr. Etsitty suggested perhaps the Navajo Nation would reconsider their denial to allow exploration and subsequent mining when they “….find a cure for cancerâ€. Perhaps our legislators should consider the same philosophy.

Joseph R. Scranton is a resident of Canon City.

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