Today the Navajo Nation brought the question to our nation's capital where they laid a pile of dirt out for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and let a Geiger Counter do the talking. The dirt was quickly escorted from the building.
The Navajo have a whale of experience with radioactive surroundings.
But you know, they're just injuns so who the hell gives a hoot. I mean, they should count their lucky stars we let them live down there in New Mexico, Arizona and all.
Well guess what white man? Radiation is coming to your town, if it hasn't already arrived.
Take Weld County, Colorado, where almost none of those pesky Indians live and 82% of the population is white. Take it while you can.
The Tribune of Northern Colorado reports:
"Powertech, Inc. wants to use the water that residents of Weld County depend on for their drinking water, and for livestock and crops for extracting uranium,with other heavy metals as byproducts. The risk of water contamination with
in-situ mining is indisputably documented.
The combination of contaminated dust and the natural weather patterns in Northern Colorado creates a nightmare. We all have been exposed to the fierce winds that lash our area. Those same winds will tear away at the contaminated mining waste and deposit it over a large area. Deposits from the 1980 St. Helens eruption easily reached Colorado. Imagine what a Weld County open pit mine could do."
Sounds like fun. Good place to get a tan, maybe.
Speaking of Colorado, how about the town of Rulison.
Back in the late 60s the government came up with this hair brained scheme to use nuclear explosions to free up natural gas. The area around Rulison was picked as a nice place to experiment. It didn't work. After the test, the natural gas that was extracted was determined to be too radioactive to be sold commercially. The surface of the site began to be cleaned up by the Department of Energy in the 1970s, and was supposedly completed in 1998. A buffer zone put in place by the state of Colorado still exists around the area, however.
And now here we are in 2007 and some big old energy company wants to drill in the buffer zone.
Wonder how many DOE bigwigs live nearby?
Anyway, Tim McFlynn writes in the Aspen Times:
"...in its March 2000 report, DOE found tritium to be the “primary contaminant of concern over the next 100 years because it is one of the most mobile radiologic isotopes and is found in abundance” at the test site. Since well bores would pass through groundwater aquifers, the report noted, “No proven and cost-effective technologies exist for the removal of radioactive contamination from groundwater at these depths.” And the report did not consider pathways for potential
migration into the air, groundwater or natural gas of plutonium, uranium,
carbon-14 or krypton-85 — all admitted to be associated with this underground
nuclear blast (though the specifics remain classified.)
Tim adds that now the DOE, "...concludes that there is 95 percent certainty that a hypothetical well producing gas just outside the 40 acre drilling exclusion area would release groundwater contamination by tritium. If there were only a 5 percent chance of a lethal discharge, would you play Russian roulette?"
No thanks, I'd pass on that one.
Finally, I'll just mention the concerned folks who live in and around Tonawanda, New York. Although this place does have an Indian name, it is 98% white.
Residents living near a Tonawanda landfill that was once the site of the Army’s Manhattan Project decades ago want the area cleaned up. Plain and simple.
The Army Corps (the same bunch who built that magnificent levee system around New Orleans) maintains that the risk to residents’ homes is acceptable. They say trucking stuff in and out of the dump poses no problems.
I know that would make me fill safe.
It apparently doesn't make the folks there feel safe though.
"Do something!" That’s the message Christopher Thomas, Casper Hoffmann and Joyce Hogenkamp sent to the City of Tonawanda Council earlier this month.
Hogenkamp, a former Tonawanda City School District Board of Education member, told the council that three teachers from Riverview Elementary School, which neighbors the landfill, have been diagnosed with cancer within the past year.
“We have an immediate problem,” she said. “What we are sitting on is a timebomb between the landfill, Spaulding (Fibre) and what’s sitting down in Gastown. We need a city-wide health study. The grant money is out there for these studies.”
Hoffmann, was more direct with his comments.
“You people gotta do something now. ... We got people dying (from cancer) down there,” he said.
Hoffmann said he’s been begging the city “for 10 months” to file an injunction against the town to stop all work at the landfill. The work, which involves moving garbage from one end to the other, has caused his whole house to shake.
Erie County 10th District Legislator Michele Iannello said the main concern residents shared with her was in regards to their health, especially “not knowing whether they’ve been affected or will be affected in the future if the uranium stays there,” she said.
The Corps needs to clean out the landfill “so we don’t have to wonder,” Iannello said to the local media. “They’ve cleaned up other landfills that don’t have residents living nearby and to me this is more important because there are residents living near there. Get it cleaned out.”
But the Corps keeps on keeping on.
Why do Americans of any color or class have to live in fear of cancer causing radioactive waste in their neighborhood.
We call it capitalism folks.
We call it a government more concerned about corporate interest that individual citizens.
And that's the way it is in America today.
The following is from the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Navajos: Old uranium tailings leave land radioactive, people sick
By Thomas Burr
WASHINGTON - The Navajo Nation representative waved an instrument over the small pile of dirt. Beep, beep, beep it went, in a radioactive crescendo.
The bit of soil - shipped from the Four Corners region to the Capitol - underscored Stephen Etsitty's point: This was only a minuscule sample of the tailings left behind from decades of uranium mining.
Much larger pieces, he said, can be found in the homes of American Indians, in watering holes for grazing animals, even pressed into a public highway.
"The sounds that you have heard come from an instrument called a Ludlum 19 and show that Navajo families are living within a few hundred yards of materials that we're told we shouldn't be exposed to for longer than an hour," said Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stared at the small tub of dirt, which was then sealed off and escorted out of the building by Capitol Police.
The demonstration on Tuesday came during testimony on the problems faced by those living in the Navajo Nation - 27,000 square miles across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico - where more than 500 former uranium mines were abandoned after the rush to find nuclear material during the 1940s to the 1970s.
Representatives of the Navajo Nation say the U.S. government has not done enough to clean up the aftermath of the uranium mining, an effort that one committee member said could cost more than $500 million.
Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., declared at the start of the hearing that it is the federal government's responsibility to see that the contamination is cleaned up. And he decried the lack of work on restoring the land on the Navajo reservation.
"If a fraction of the deadly contamination the Navajos live with every day had been in Beverly Hills or any wealthy community, it would have been cleaned up immediately," Waxman said. "But there's a different standard applied to the Navajo land."
Ray Manygoats lives near Tuba City, Ariz., where a uranium mill sprang up during the Cold War, and he says radioactive waste is still strewn all over the area.
"Our land today is poisoned," Manygoats said. "Today, I am a man who has lost his health, his family and his ancestral way of life because of uranium. I am here today to ask you to act to stop the suffering and needless deaths of my people."
Etsitty, who says the presence of hazardous waste violates America's treaty with the Navajos, noted that the federal government is planning to reclaim a tailings site near Moab just outside the Navajo Nation.
"Why is this not happening on the Navajo reservation," he said. "Are we seeing environmental injustice in action once again?"
Because of the health and environmental problems that have plagued tribal members since the last boom, the Navajo Nation has passed a resolution prohibiting new uranium mining on the reservation.
In 2001, the EPA razed Mary Holiday's hogan in Monument Valley because of gamma radiation readings 25 times higher than the level considered safe and radon 44 times above the "safe" level. Exposure to high radiation sometimes causes lung cancer, the disease that killed Holiday's nephew, Leonard Begay, a non-smoker who had lived in the hogan for many years. He died in 2003 at age 38.
Wayne Nastri, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency region that covers the Navajo Nation, said there have been efforts made to reclaim some of the now-contaminated land. The agency has built an inventory of 520 abandoned mines and the Navajo government is now helping to prioritize the sites for cleanup, Nastri said.
"The challenge posed by uranium mine sites in the Navajo Nation will need to be addressed through federal, state and tribal efforts," Nastri said, adding that the agency provides $3.9 million annually to the Navajo government and that during the last 16 years it has spent $7.8 million specifically for a superfund program.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of Interior also is helping the Navajos reclaim the land, its director, Jerry Gidner, testified. His agency is providing assistance to the tribal government to address the hazards at the mines and also helping to seal some mine openings and remove physical hazards at others.
Waxman, who plans more hearings on the subject, called for a comprehensive study of the health risks posed by the tailings and suggested the EPA conduct detailed site assessments at the priority mine sites right away. Once that's done, he added, the cleanups need be "initiated and accelerated."