URANIUM MINING in the SOUTH WEST: NAVAJOS TRAPPED BY TAILING and DECADES OF INACTION
RARE METALS AZ Processing facility was one of the four mills that victimized the NAVAJO during the COLD WAR, creating an AMERICAN TRAGEDY; says Henry Waxman D-CA who points to a history of neglect that would not be tolerated elsewhere. Among the horrors: shifting mountains of uranium tailing; open mines leaching contaminated rain into drinking water tables; wind-blown radioactive dust; home construction from uranium mine slabs; and even the grim spectacle of children playing in radioactive swimming holes.
( WHITE DUST PART TWO )
When Uranium prices started to rise in 2006 folks on the Arizona Strip and in Fredonia, Utah started to smell jobs. Rural desolation and the depression has starved the economic opportunities here, “Does Fredonia even have a motel anymore” Carol Tinney asks herself, continuing, “When Salazar stopped Uranium Mining he stopped those jobs, and broke those folks hearts.” As far as Kanab Creek (being radioactive) “There is so little water in that stream, there’s hardly enough to worry about”, she adds about the drainage that worries Steve Martin because he’s concerned about the ecosystems down stream and believes everything will suffer from toxic heavy metal and radiation.
“I worry about uranium escaping into the local water, and about its effect on fish in the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge, and on the bald eagles, California condors and bighorn sheep that depend on the Canyon’s seeps and springs. More than a third of the Canyon’s species would be affected if water quality suffered” — Steve Martin, former Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent
Secretary Salazar this summer was joined at the Mather Point Amphitheater in Grand Canyon National Park by BLM Director Bob Abbey, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on JUNE 20, 2011 said the Grand Canyon must be guided by “caution, wisdom, and science,” so as to protect the World Heritage Site, tribal interests, drinking water supplies, and the tourism economy that the area’s natural resources support. In Salazar remarks he stated that he would take action to close one million acres of public and National Forest System lands surrounding the Grand Canyon to new uranium mining and claims.
From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb, and for the weapons stockpile built up during the arms race with the Soviet Union. Private companies operated the mines, but the U.S. government was the sole customer. The boom lasted through the early ’60s. As the Cold War threat gradually diminished over the next two decades, more than 1,000 mines and four processing mills on tribal land shut down.
On Jul 24, 2011 – Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake put a rider on the Interior Department’s appropriations bill to tie the Interior secretary’s hands.”Uranium mining outside of Grand Canyon National Park can create jobs and stimulate the economy in northern Arizona without jeopardizing the splendor and natural beauty within the park,” the congressman said in a statement posted on his website. “That’s why the proposed moratorium on new uranium claims is opposed by state and local officials in Arizona.”Rep. Flake’s comments about Arizona opposition to the moratorium is not exactly accurate.
Officials for the Central Arizona Project, which provides water to nearly 80 percent of Arizona’s 6.5 million residents, have expressed concern over uranium mining around the park in a joint letter cosigned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. A number of sportsmen groups oppose mining on the lands and multiple local and national sportsmen organizations sent a letter to Secretary Ken Salazar thanking him for upholding the temporary moratorium on new uranium mining claims, and requested that he extend the ban to 20 year.
“Wildlife, fisheries and the water that supports us are not partisan issues,” the group letter states. “Uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park is wholly unacceptable given the best science available and the potential impacts not only to our natural resources but to the economy of Northern Arizona and the communities that drink Colorado River water.”
Today, the NPS advises hikers against “drinking and bathing” in the Little Colorado River, Kanab Creek, and other Grand Canyon waters where “excessive radio nuclides” have been found. Although it is difficult to attribute this contamination to any specific activity, there can be little doubt that the cumulative effects of mining, milling, and transporting radioactive materials are causing long-term, adverse effects on people, water and other resource values in the Grand Canyon region.
The legislature may rule on this rider and closure before the August recess ?
What’s At Risk? The future of one of our nation’s crown jewels, and the world’s, most revered treasures, and the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren. JEFF FLAKES policy rider would directly threaten one of the top twenty travel destinations and America’s only one of seven natural wonders of the world. It also threatens the quality of the Colorado River’s water on which more than 25 million people in the American South West depend on for drinking.
Earlier this summer, Navajo President Joe Shelly proclaimed Uranium Legacy Remembrance Action Day and led a march to United Nuclear Corp, a Church Rock New Mexico Uranium Mill that was the scene of the largest low-level radioactive waste spill in U.S. History. On July 16, 1979, 94 million gallons of acidic waste water spilled into the Puerco River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River traveling 50 miles downstream before settling in the Arizona stream bed after an earth-tailing dam failed. Shelly’s proclamation commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the Church Rock Tailing Spill as well as six decades of Uranium impact on the Navajo reservation.
The demand for Uranium–on Navajo lands and has poisoned the scarce waters as well as taken many lives and the health of the Navajo people becoming the biggest sacrifice ever visited on a people. Ed Singer, Cameron Chapter President
“They don’t mine like that anymore!” say Carol Tinney, who believes the jobs, Uranium mining will bring the Arizona Strip will far outweigh the ecological concerns for downstream which are over stated and are fears fueled by boogieman stories of the past and out-dated mining processes. The Navajo Nation, which encompasses large chunks of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah disagrees they say they are living proof of the after affects of Uranium Mining and suffer daily from the old mining processes and the inaction of the government, and the mining companies who walked away from their responsibilities leaving piles of white dust to blow where ever the wind took it.
White dust-like powder blowing daily across Rare Metals couldn’t be poison Navajo elders say at the chapter house in Tuba City—look at Nez Bancroft she lived there 65 years going on a hundred, they laugh.
But Nez Bancroft is not laughing. Rare Metals is now an abandoned uranium tailing located five miles north of Tuba City on the Navajo Nation but once it was Bancroft’s pasture where thirty years ago as a girl, she herded sheep and later as a mother she raised her children and watched the bulldozers come to her pastures pushed her sheep aside and began mining the soil. She remembers the funny smell of uranium that always followed them while tending livestock, her throat would soon parch and ached while tending the sheep, the powder was everywhere, for twenty years she and her family covered their mouth and face when riding through their valley.
Before the tailing mined closed in 1976, Nez Bancroft moved her extended family of twenty plus children and grandchildren from their birth site up wind from the tailing and contaminated pools. Most suffer from mysterious eyesores and like their grandmother Nez, they at times, aches from head to toe, and their doctors can find no cause or treatment. The hillside view in the late 1970’s overlooked the sacred peaks above Flagstaff and what was left of Rare Metals, a smelter building and foundations of company town homes on the south side of Navajo Route 160 and maybe a dozen homes still standing on the north side.
Navajo Sheep Grazing in the exposed Uranium tailing long abandon by Rare Metals Corporation. Nez noted she saw twenty of her sheep drink from standing pools near the tailing and they soon died. Fencing today protects livestock from the contaminated water but suspect wells were used in those days especially during droughts. No one told them not to use the wells then, but today the ground water in the area has a plume of contamination and while that water is not used or needed today, all the inhabitants have been moved off the land but what happens in hard times.
From her hillside hogan for more of a decade, Nez Bancroft has watched winds carry the white powder “like a busted flour sack” into the homes built for the whites brought in to harvest and smelt the rare metal and who left as soon as the jobs played out. During the Bennett Freeze in the 1970’s-80’s, those abandoned homes, served as stop gap housing for Navajos who couldn’t live anywhere else.
Betty Dodd and puppies who ran free and wandered home covered in white dust.
“Does it affect this side of the highway”, asks Betty Dodd about the uranium. Dodd and her 16-year-old son Dale moved to Rare Metals almost three years ago because they needed an inexpensive place to live. Rising rents had forced her from her trailer after losing her kitchen job at the High School, in Tuba City where jobs were few and far between. On this day she eats on money made selling Indian Jewelry to tourists at the traffic circle in Tuba City.
Across the tree-lined path, Bobby Marks, a janitor at the Tuba High School, a year earlier moved his family of nine into two of the remaining 10 structures north of the uranium tailing. His salary was less than $6 an hour and he couldn’t afford to drive back and forth from his Hogan and trailer at Red Lake, 20 miles away, each night after work. Like many in Rare Metals he fears for the health of his family, but has no other way to house or feed his family.
Bobby Marks’ family
In 1976, the same year Ford, Bacon, Davis, Utah Inc., the primary contractor for Rare Metals shut down the mine. Betty Dodd applied for benefits from the Navajo-Hopi Relocation Commission in Flagstaff. Dodd was born “right on the line” of the Bennett Freeze “on the building or remodeling of any homes in the disputed land”. Born in the Coal Mine Mesa District of the Navajo-Hopi joint use district she was told it was mandatory she apply and was told she “would hear from them within three months”, they promised. They promised a letter with instructions would arrive and that was 10 years ago she says, throwing another log on the wood fire. In April she went to Flagstaff and the Commission said come back in July after the deadline for relocation, saying they had no idea what money and land would be made available.
“Find me a house, then I’ll move”, Dodd said. “They want me to move to New Mexico, near Roswell”, she says, “I’ll go anywhere”, “I won’t complain but I’d rather be here.” Sick, off and on all last winter, Dodd relies on her brothers and sisters in Tuba City whose children haul wood and water helping out when Dodd often frequently feels too dizzy to trip into town. The potbelly stove glows in the dark house, outside the wind whips around the structure as the sun drops out of the sky. The burning wood warms the living room, the lack of electricity makes little difference to Dodd who rises with the sun and her dogs, Rocky and Lobo, she prefers to stay away from radios, TV’s and town.
“Rare Metals, isn’t the only place you can die of cancer,” she says. “besides, I like it here. It’s so quiet and peaceful.” Dodd’s sons deliver water from Tuba city for washing and drinking.
Across the tree-lined path a neighbor James Peshlakai feels differently, fours years ago when the Navajo Tribe took control of the property he moved his four children into their free house at Rare Metals. Today he’s bitter, “whoever processed the uranium knew the danger of walking away from it” when we moved here, we knew of no danger.” “Now I can’t move, can’t build—the Hopi won’t allow any new development… this land is frozen.”
The polticans just talk about it, the Navajo Tribe, the Hopis, the Federal Government, the Department of Health “we’re the scapegoats”. “I don’t like it!” says Peshlakai. “I have a truckload of cinder block, another of building material bought and paid for in Flagstaff—just waiting. I asked to move to Cameron or Tuba City, they say. “It’s frozen. In Tuba City all I hear,it’s frozen” “Meanwhile everyone here is frozen here”, he concludes….
James Peshlakai Family
WINDBLOWN MAP 1981 STUDY
From 1984 through 1995, the Department of Energy spent $240 million to cover tailing piles at the old uranium mills as part of a nationwide program. Tailing are the fine sand left over when ore is ground up to extract uranium. They retain most of the radioactivity and give off large quantities of radon, an odorless, cancer-causing gas. A 1981 Engineering assessment of the Rare Metals 800,000 tons of uranium tailing for the Department of Energy found that “trucks could remove material from the site at a rate of at least of 2,000 tons a day, removing all tailing and contaminated materials within two years. But since Blanding, Utah was the nearest functioning mill, it was decided “the costs of removal would far exceed the value of the uranium that could be recovered from the tailing”.
When completed in 1990, the Super Fund Cap in Rare Metals covered about 50 acres. Nearly 2.3 million tons of contaminated materials are entombed in the cell and, according to the DOE fact sheet, the cell contains “all of the residual radioactive materials at the mill site, the contaminated windblown materials from surrounding properties, and debris from the demolished buildings.”RARE METALS Arizona is a Uranium mill company town, these foundations were finally bulldozed and removed, so was the topsoil, inches of it scrapped up and trucked away. From June 1956 to November 1966, the Tuba City Rare Metals Mill processed 796,489 tons of uranium ore. The U.S. Department of Energy says, when the mill closed three connected mill tailing piles containing 800,000 tons of material and three evaporation ponds remained. The mill became a Superfund site, all that is left of the Mill today is a fenced remediation site. For decades Navajos lived in homes left abandon after the mill closed, some buildings were torn down and the material reused elsewhere. A Remedial Cap (below) was placed on Rare Metals Tailing in the 1990’s, forty years late.
The cancer death rate on the reservation — historically much lower than that of the general U.S. population — doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, according to Indian Health Service data. The overall U.S. cancer death rate declined slightly over the same period. Though no definitive link has been established, researchers say exposure to mining byproducts in the soil, air and water almost certainly contributed to the increase in Navajo cancer mortality….LATIMES
In the summer of 2014 North Arizona Researchers have developed a hypothesis that if uranium is photoactivated by UV radiation it could be more harmful to skin than either exposure alone,” said Diane Stearns, professor of biochemistry who with co-author Janice Wilson, developed a study that that once uranium was present on the skin, exposure to UV radiation or sunlight could be chemically toxic and lead to cancerous lesions. The team members now has recommended that future risk assessments regarding cancer caused by uranium exposure include the possibility of photoactivation in skin.
We don’t have to destroy the mining industry to protect the Grand Canyon. But we do have to use our mineral resources wisely to protect our economy. — Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association.
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