A Montrose Daily Press Special Report
By Dick K amp Wick Communications Environmental Liaison FOR MOST PEOPLE, the most sobering and confusing aspect of the proposed Paradox Valley Energy Fuels uranium mill in the west end of Montrose County is the question of human health. If, as one victim of a toxic baptism declares in our sidebar interview, “humans make mistakes,” is that significant to future mining and milling in the Uravan district and the county? Have old mines and mill sites been cleaned up sufficiently? What risks of radioactive exposure does a worker face today? Is new technology safer? Like environmental impacts that will be discussed in a separate article, health and uranium is an issue that the Montrose County Planning Commission and the Commissioners should understand as well as they possibly can. There are two principal reasons for local regulators and elected officials to focus on health issues. • First, the proposed mill is an industrial plant on Montrose County private land so it is the Commissioners who must determine what land management issues matter regarding it. They can deny or approve a special use permit, or impose conditions in the event that they approve EF’s permit application that was submitted on July 25. (The land is owned by Energy Fuels.) • Second, uranium mining, transportation, milling and processing have had profound health effects on the workforce and to residents of Montrose and Mesa counties. Health and environmental questions will be intertwined; but we will not address the latter in any detail. Montrose County planning director Steve White, will play a major role in determining the future of the EF mill. His thoughts about the health issues: “If I talk about the proposed mill in generic terms from a County perspective, we have people in the West End that want to work in this plant whether there’s a health risk or not. This is a county that historically has accepted that kind of risk and worked in uranium mines and mills. The same people who might oppose the mill may have drunk alcohol, smoked, or driven too fast—also conscious acts and acceptance of risk. We need good solid (health-related) data and we need to understand how things work in terms of this mill’s impact on environ-
ment and health.” White added, “We’ll either do it (issue a permit) or not based on the planning commission and the Commissioners’ conclusions. I’ve read some of these health studies and it’s difficult to draw conclusions. This will be a subjective decision.” The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will handle state environmental health permitting issues specific to the site and the facility. CDPHE actually requires that a county applicant provide $50,000 to county government to get independent advice to locally assess nuclear health and environmental issues around this mill or other nuclear facilities to help determine whether to issue a permit or apply conditions to it. EF CEO George Glasier noted that he has no problem adding more money to that pot if the county determines that it is necessary. Glasier commented, “If the county needs a $100,000 or even more to get the expertise they need, we are spending millions on permitting and the county permit is the one that decides whether we build or not on our property.”
A systematic way to look at the proposed mill Since the proposed mill is on private land belonging to Energy Fuels, and not Federal property, the proposed mill will not be subject to a Federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Currently the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responding to a July lawsuit brought by Colorado environmental groups for not developing in-depth multiple EISs for uranium mines in the Uravan district that were issued preliminary leases to operate. EF was one successful bidder on these leases. An EIS is meant to closely examine the possible environmental, health, social, and economic impacts of a proposed project. It provides a factual description of the project, the environment it may affect, and the impacts that might result. In this way, an EIS aids decision makers in mak-
ing an informed and rational decision about the project. The statement also analyzes cumulative impacts of the project along with impacts from existing and other proposed facilities. The EIS extends the analysis of impacts of a project to off-site and out-of-the-region areas—including nuclear waste in this case-- in providing a larger understanding of impacts. It is certainly not required by any law at a county level. However the EIS is a well-developed tool to understand how uranium ore is minded, handled, and transported to the mill and also in understanding how the mill and tailings disposal will operate and eventually be shut down permanently and “reclaimed”. And it can analyze known and potential health risks of a new uranium mill and illuminate problems from the past. This article/analysis is a simplified and “limited to health EIS-style” look at selected uranium issues related to the proposed EF mill. We do not investigate other uranium life cycle questions that could appear in an EIS beyond milling. For example, we will not discuss health risks from the converting of the mill’s “yellowcake”, or uranium oxide that will be converted to uranium hexafluoride and then be “enriched” for conversion into fuel for nuclear power reactors.
SEE A MILL UNLIKE, PAGE 4
Energy Fuels Resources miners Kenneth Chadd, Allen Young, and Steve Puderbaugh describe their experiences mining in 2007. All three have decades of time underground. photo by William Woody
Miners and a mule pose at unknown date at unknown mine providing ore to Uravan mill (courtesy Rimrocker Historical Museum, Naturita, donated by Union Carbide)
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
Maps showing mine and milling locations in Montrose County and Utah.
Glossary Alpha particle - Nucleus of a helium atom--certain radioactive nuclei emit alpha particles. Alpha particles can be stopped by a s a sheet of paper, and cannot penetrate the outer layer of skin. When alpha-emitting atoms of radioactive substances are inhaled or swallowed, they are especially damaging because they transfer relatively large amounts of ionizing energy to living cells in the body.
"Background" Radiation - The level of radioactivity in surrounding rock (if gamma radiation) or in the air or water (if alpha radiation/radon gas) that is present. Either when there has been no disturbances of the natural environment or--if the policy of regulatory agencies---surrounding an area that may be mined or that may otherwise increase radioactivity. In some cases, already polluted and radioactive areas may be referred to as "background" depending on state regulations. However, "background" usually refers to natural radioactivity levels.
Beta Particles: - Electrons ejected from the nucleus of a decaying atom. Although they can be stopped by a thin sheet of aluminum, beta particles can penetrate the dead skin layer, potentially causing burns. They can pose a serious direct or external radiation threat and can be lethal depending on the amount received. They also pose a serious internal radiation threat if beta-emitting atoms are ingested or inhaled. BIER 7 - The most recent Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation named by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Bureau of Mines - Department of the Interior agency that oversaw U.S. mining from 1910-1996.
CDC - Dept. of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention—The U.S. government service that addresses any epidemiological issues—those that affect large parts of the population
Curies and Picocuries (measure radon) Curie (Ci) - The traditional measure of radioactivity based on the observed decay rate of 1 gram of radium. A picocurie is about 1 trillionth of a curie.
tube, a short, intense pulse of current passes from the negative electrode to the positive electrode and is measured or counted. The number of pulses per second measures the intensity of the radiation field. Geiger counters are the most commonly used portable radiation detection instruments.
Hazardous Material - A material that can be toxic, flammable, reactive, or explosive. ICRP - International Commission on Radiological Protection is a prestigious international community whose medical research is a basis for many countries’ standards. Malignant/non-malignant - Cancerous or non-cancerous. Milliroentgens (mR) - Measure of
radioactivity used largely to measure gamma radiationthat can be converted into REMS (below). A miner’s ‘acceptable’ yearly dose is 5 rem (or about 5000 total mR per hour).
MSDS - Manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet that provides information in the worksheet on hazardous or radioactive materials. MSHA - U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration— NIOSH - National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is a part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and prevention and does studies to set workplace health standards.
NRC - Nuclear Regulatory Commission—regulates uranium
Montrose Daily Press 3684 N.Townsend, Montrose CO, 81401• (970) 249-3444 • www.montrosepress.com
United Nations Select Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation - A UN committee that publishes in depth reports globally on impacts of radiation on human health. Mine Engineering and Safety Administration. Forerunner to MSHA prior to 1978.
Uranium Hexafluoride - Made from yellow cake, this is the compound that then gets “enriched” in a very special centrifuge to make rods for nuclear power plant.
Uranium ore - Rock containing a substantial amount of uranium that can be utilized for milling.
U.S. DOE - US Department of Energy oversees the permits
Federal agency that sets standards for hazardous materials in the workplace.
that allow uranium to be mined.
Pathway of exposure - A means by which a contaminant or
they produce different concentrations of alpha energy known as radon daughters or “progeny”.
Radon Gas - Radon (Rn): a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soils, rock, and water. Radon causes lung cancer and is a threat to health because it tends to collect in mines and homes, sometimes to very high concentrations. As a result, radon is the largest source of exposure to people from naturally occurring radiation.
RECA - The Federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act that provides some payment and medical care to certain uranium industry workers and certain persons living “downwind” of nuclear tests
(Left to Right) Joel Blocker, Stephen Woody, Ben Jones, William Woody
Tailings - Wastes from a mining or milling process after economically usable minerals are extracted. Uranium milling produces tailings.
OSHA - US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Radon daughters - As radioactive compounds break down
A radiation detection and measuring instrument consisting of a gas-filled tube containing electrodes, between which an electrical voltage but no current flows. When ionizing radiation passes through the
compounds in it that occurs during milling that is toxic to the human body.
Uravan mining district - A general area of Southwestern Colorado including Mesa and Montrose counties crawling over the Utah border that fed uranium ore to the Uravan Union Carbide mill
Gamma Rays - High-energy electromagnetic radiation emit-
Geiger Counter or scintillator -
Soluble Uranium - A form of uranium with water or water
milling and subsequent use of uranium compounds (power plants, enrichment, etc). In Colorado the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has been approved by the NRC to regulate uranium milling.
occur as a result of exposure to some form of suspected or known carcinogen or cancer causing substance.
ted by certain radionuclides when their nuclei transition from a higher to a lower energy state. These rays have high energy and a short wave length. All gamma rays emitted from a given isotope have the same energy, a characteristic that enables scientists to identify which gamma emitters are present in a sample. Gamma rays penetrate tissue farther than do beta or alpha particles, but leave a lower concentration of ions in their path to potentially cause cell damage. Gamma rays are very similar to x-rays. See also neutron.
REM a unit of “equivalent dose” - Not all radiation has the same biological effect, even for the same amount of absorbed dose. REM relates the absorbed dose in human tissue to the effective biological damage of the radiation.
oversees uranium mine operations.
toxic or radioactive substance will impact the human body. Skin, lungs are examples of a pathway within the body. A streambed or a tailings heap could be an external pathway to the body.
Excess cancer risk - A means to describe cancers that may
Reclaimed/reclamation: - When a mine or mill of any kind is closed, reclamation is a process of permanent cleanup and restoration. There is an enormous variation in what different states and federal agencies accept as reclaimed.
U.S. DOJ - US Department of Justice U.S. DOL - US Department of Labor U.S. EPA - US Environmental Protection Agency U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) - Was established under President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress to serve as advisors to the government. Members are not compensated. Working level month - A term used in RECA cases by the DOJ and DOL in measuring whether an applicant can get compensation for getting sick. A “working level month”is 170 hours exposure to a level of radon—alpha radiation-- of 100 picuries per liter. Yellowcake - The end product of a uranium mill contains about 70-90 percent uranium trioxide, ammonium and a number of differing substances. Terms from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Wick Communications Environmental Liaison Dick Kamp began collaborating with the company on environmental and technical and policy issues in 1983. During the 1980s, he worked with current Daily Press publisher Stephen Woody at the Sierra Vista (AZ) Herald and the Bisbee (AZ) Daily Review on the development of a U.S.Mexico treaty which affected the pollution from Mexico-based copper smelters. Since 2005, he has been working with other Wick-affiliated newspapers with local and regional environmental health concerns and issues dealing with the environment. In Montrose, this has included an enterprise project on the proposed Robideaux Wilderness. Kamp also joined with Daily Press staff members in 2006 with a detailed investigation of the Elizabeth Mining Co. site that led to its closure and criminal indictments. Kamp has directed two non-profits, the Border Ecology Project and more recently, the E-Tech International endeavor that provided environmental technical support in developing countries. Kamp lives in Santa Fe with his family.
Dick Kamp Wick Communications Environmental Liaison
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
RADIATION IN AN
ENERGY FUELS MINE IN LATE JUNE, the author borrowed a Geiger counter for a tour of the Energy Fuels Whirlwind mine located on the far western corner of Mesa County on BLM land. The shaft actually goes underneath the Utah border. The Whirlwind was being prepared for mining and is now permitted to mine by the BLM. Outside the mine shaft, the reclaimed dumps at the Whirlwind mine registered at most twice “background” mostly Gamma radiation of .010-.020 milliroentgens per hour (mR) even when measured quite close to the surface. The Geiger counter levels actually dropped to a low background level--.015 milliroentgen p(mr)-- when measured while riding down the shaft nearly 3,500 feet on a gradual slope downhill. Mine director of safety Jess Fulbright said that his radon gas readings had been very low, allegedly .004 picocuries per liter, which would indicate that the gas was not accumulating in the mine and would meet a household standard for radon. However, at the end of the shaft various veins of uranium were spray-painted with the estimates of the concentration of ore to rock. The Geiger counter was measuring a .25% concentration of uranium about 6 inches from the rock—where a worker would set a charge— the gamma ray level jumped 300 times to over 4.6 mR and briefly higher. Farther away—about 3 feet from the vein, it dropped to around 1.5 mR. photo by Dick Kamp
Energy Fuels Geologist and VP Dick White holds Geiger counter in the Whirlwind mine showing gamma radiation rate about 300 times greater than in most of the mineshaft. Twenty-five percent is the concentration of uranium estimated by EF on their website to be what they expect to mine at Whirlwind. Geologist and EF Vice president Dick White said he was not particularly concerned with his own exposure to this level of gamma radiation. Nearby spray painted concentrations of uranium in the shaft varied from negligible to about 3 times the .25%. Presumably the Geiger counter readings would have gone up and down with the concentrations of uranium—conceivably to three times those recorded earlier.
Interpreting Whirlwind mine radiation numbers Regarding these specific readings, Dr. Arthur Miller of the NIOSH occupational mine safety and health Spokane Research Lab said, “Since the ‘acceptable’ yearly dose is 5 rem (or about 5000 total mR per hour using the readings in the mine), if you look at (a miner’s) exposure over a long period, and he spent enough time to gather less than (the limit of) 5,000 mR exposure in a year, he would be considered to have ‘acceptable’ exposure.
So this would mean he would have to spend less than 5,000/4.6 = 1,087 hrs in that environment within a year to have experienced an acceptable exposure level.” EF’s George Glasier suggested that a 5-6 hour day working underground is probably a reasonable estimate of worker exposure. This would mean that a miner could work about 180 working days a year (36 weeks) for a 6-hour day or about 217 days (43 weeks) for a 5-hour day before exceeding the Federal standard for gamma radiation exposure. The combination of Dr. Miller’s and Glasier’s estimates of potential workplace exposure are also consistent with the last comprehensive data for uranium mining worker exposure to gamma rays done between 1975-1977 by the agency that was the predecessor to MSHA released in a 1977 report by NIOSH. This report to Congress indicated that workers generally were exposed to between 15% and 40% more radiation than the law allowed after regulations were in place. The measurements that MSHA requires are averages for a year’s accumulation, and the specific requirements of where to monitor requirements are somewhat vague. Above State Road 90, about a mile above the proposed mill site, one finds tailings from the Cotter Corporation and several abandoned mines. Readings from mine waste dumps near them registered Geiger counter readings that were close to those within the Whirlwind mine. Many such dumps are present on BLM and private land in the Uravan mining district; some of the waste dump areas on BLM land near the Whirlwind mine have been reclaimed.
Whirlwind’s MSHA violations & significance EF critics, such as the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center, have pointed to Whirlwind mine MSHA violations as an indication of corporate irresponsibility that should be cautionary for the future. EF was issued 14 MSHA violations between March 19 and March 24 that cost the company $100 apiece and that have since been resolved. These included: failure to notify MSHA before opening a mine, electrical and machinery safety problems, lack of proper refuge, failure to keep employee working hour records, lack of a ventilation plan, failure to keep fan maintenance, failure to maintain an emergency plan (escape, evacuation and ventilation of emergency routes), failure to maintain a mine emergency rescue team of at least five people to address emergencies and no health sampling. It may be a little difficult to say that at this early stage of preparing to mine that these violations at the Whirlwind mine are particularly egregious, and most of the conditions had been addressed by late June. The violations may indicate that the MSHA inspection was more thorough than in the past when the agency was taken to task numerous times for allegedly notifying management when and where they would inspect an active uranium mine.
Geiger counter (inset) showing radiation at about 150 times background radiation at ore waste dumps near abandoned Golden Eagle Mine. Waste dump source unknown. photo by Joel Blocker photo by Dick Kamp
Abandoned Golden Eagle Mine near proposed Pinon Mill site photo by Joel Blocker
Transporting ore from the mine to the mill; accidents happen After mining, the next pathway of exposure to radioactivity comes from loading, driving, and unloading the 25-ton ore trucks driving from the mine to the mill. Since the 2000 amendments to RECA, uranium ore truck drivers who worked before 1971 may be compensated for lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, fibrosis of the lung, silicosis, pneumoconiosis, renal cancer and chronic renal diseases and tissue injuries, among other conditions. EF’s Dick White described two spills of trucks containing uranium ore traveling from different directions to the Canon City, Colo. Mill. On September 30, 1997, chaos and panic ensued when an ore truck traveling from the Cotter Schwartzwalder mine overturned on I-25 outside of Colorado Springs. The local fire department—rather than a trained hazardous material emergency response crew that could not enter the closed freeway—was brought in without measuring radioactivity. They swept the ore off the freeway. In February, 2006, an ore truck overturned east of Salida along the Arkansas River on U.S. Highway 50. “The driver,” said White, “carried a Geiger counter and measured the radiation right where it spilled rather than three feet away as the MSHA regulations require and the readings were very high.” That incident also led to complicated cleanup procedures. The second spill raises an interesting question. If a driver is leaning against a truck or the ore spills out—why is measuring radiation from three foot average distance more relevant than the reading close to the spill? The 25-ton ore trucks tend to be covered with a simple tarp. There are no other protections from the ore spilling or otherwise exposing anybody. A very steep road drops down from the mouth of the Whirlwind mine. It can grow slick and claylike, particularly in inclement weather.” “Substantial work needs to be done to the road before we start hauling ore”, said Glasier.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2008
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
A MILL UNLIKE OTHERS AND ITS MINES CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
photos by William Woody
EF CEO GEORGE Glasier said that he has no existing model for his mill that has been built anywhere: “This one will be the state of the art”. EF has been rehabilitating three mines that would provide up to 70% of the mill’s processing capacity. The EF Whirlwind mine on Mesa County-Utah border has an infrastructure typical of a moderate size modern day underground uranium mine. The waste rock piles left behind were terraced and buried (reclaimed). The mine was permitted to operate by the BLM on September 12, after an environmental assessment determined it would have no significant impact to environment or health. How much, if and when it will produce in the future, will depend on milling contracts although EF projects production at 200 tons per day. EF is also rehabilitating the Tenderfoot mine in San Juan County, Utah and the Energy Queen mine in Mesa County. At least one mine does not have tailings reclaimed, says Glasier.
Uranium mine-to-mill life hazards and health risks Exposure to radioactivity-“ionizing radiation”-- poses some risk of excess cancers and other non-cancerous/malignant disease. These can come from (1) alpha particles in the form of radon gas and its solid decay products, called “daughters”, (2) from beta particles, and (3) from gamma rays emitted from radium and other radioactive compounds derived from uranium. Uranium workers are exposed to these types of radiation in a mine before or after blasting, in a uranium waste dump, in a truckload of ore, and in the dust and processes of making yellowcake. However, it is also safe to say that the actual risks in an Energy Fuels mine or mill from radiation hazards are difficult to define. This is true presuming that all Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) occupational standards are met, or even if the more protective standards proposed over two decades ago (and not adopted) by the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) were met by the company. In 2006, a conservative group of scientists, established by the National Academy of Sciences, called BEIR 7 (Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation), looked at ionizing gamma radiation occupational exposure globally -the type of radiation that could be blocked by lead-independent of inhaled radon gas. The group issued this statement: “The committee concludes that current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.” Partial translation: no matter what the dose, to
Energy Fuels Resources miner Allen Young demonstrates the usage of a breathing apparatus in case of an emergency. Below from left George Glasier, Kathleen Glasier and Allen Young ride an ATV from deep inside a uranium mine near Gateway in 2007. some degree radiation from any source including uranium mining, milling, and usage will cause cancer.
CEO Glasier’s Health perspective George Glasier was asked if he felt that his mines and mill could avoid all future deaths from cancer or other industry related illnesses. He replied, “We can absolutely avoid future deaths from mining and milling. I don’t know the number of cancer deaths caused by milling. Radon gas is not the same problem in a mill as in a mine. “It’s addressed by MSHA in the requirements for ventilation of mines. The radiation at the millsite is currently background, and there is natural radiation in the ground. The mill won’t contribute to cancer deaths and worker safety is set by Federal standards. If you don’t believe the data that backs current standards then there isn’t much I could say. I’ve heard that if you work in our mill full time it would be equivalent to taking two airplane flights a year.”
The Paradox Valley as seen from above the Cotter JD-8 open pit uranium mine, far right side. The Energy Fuels Pinon Ridge millsite property is located about 2/3 of the way to the left or west side of the photo. photo by Joel Blocker
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2008
Occupational Health concerns THE MOST CURRENT analyses of health risks in uranium milling were compiled in 1993 by the United Nations Select Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation. The collective “excess cancer risks of the 18,000 mill workers globally in ’93 were estimated to be about 1 out of 99 (182 excess cancers) as a result of working in a mill. (By comparison, the aforementioned 2005 ICRP study estimated that overall excess cancer risks in the uranium industry were 1 out of 31). The main “pathways of exposure” to radiation the United Nations committee found were inhalation of radon gas and the subsequent “daughter” compounds that evolve from radon in the lungs. Workers were exposed largely to inhalation of uranium ore dust as it entered into the mill and to handling the ore as it was leached, and later in the process, to inhalation of uranium concentrate dust. Additionally, a substantial amount of the risk in the mill was estimated to be from exposure to radiation due to proximity to the ore and the concentrates. This would have been largely gamma rays. The UN study is considered to be highly conservative and cautious by both the uranium industry, and antinuclear activists. Industry has claimed that this risk is low when they cite the study; critics claim it is misleadingly low and should be higher. The study presumed that mills were meeting high international occupational health standards rather than necessarily checking thousands of medical records.
The EF mill and health Regarding impacts on workers and nearby residents, EF’s Frank Filas, who is handling the state environmental permitting, said that the external air emissions would be “within state emission standards for the area” and that it was “premature” to estimate them. Tailings will be in underground “cells” and buried, unlike at older mills, although the jury may be out on whether the site is seismically stable—a major environmental question. Exactly what the resident and worker exposure could be at the Energy Fuel mill is difficult to say, based on the Montrose special use permit summary. In its permit appendix on “Radiation and Worker/Public Safety”, EF hastens to assure readers that workers are generally exposed to less than 1/50 of stringent Federal standards, that airplane pilots are generally in greater risk than uranium industry workers and that the average frequent flyer is likely to get exposed to a greater radiation risk than a uranium worker. It seems difficult, when comparing airplane passengers to miners, millers, and others in the industry, to presume that monitoring is done with extraordinary care; workers avoid all hazards, that accidents never happen, that 1993 risk studies are not applicable 15 years later, and that the occupational record of the Canon City, Colorado mill is a complete anomaly. Cotter’s Canon City mill, currently closed, violated Colorado occupational health standards 24 times in 2002, directly resulting in a plant shutdown, had “significant deficiencies” in 2003, was cited in 2004 and 2005 for worker exposure to over the twice the federal standard for “soluble uranium”. “Soluble uranium” exposure meant that Canon City workers would have been exposed within the plant at a stage where chemicals or fluids had been added during pre-leaching and thickening, leaching, separation and purification of uranium, or during uranium recovery as yellowcake. The Canon City mill, which is a contaminated Superfund site, paid local residents more than $16 million in 2001 for causing excess radiation poisoning and for diseases in surrounding communities. The mill’s last violation was in late August, 2008. However, the nearest residence to the EF mill is more than three miles away. A worst-case fear over what could happen to workers in a mill are summed up in our interview with exmill worker, Reed Hayes of Paradox, who fell into a vat of yellowcake in 1967 at the Atlas mill in Utah at a time, points out EF in their permit proposal, when worker protection was low on the agenda. Hayes says, “I don’t care what the newer technologies are, mistakes will be made.”
George Glasier Terry Bunker, Allen Young Kenneth Chadd Steve Puderbaugh photos by William Woody
Workers at a Uravan district mine during 1950s. (Union Carbide donation to Rimrocker Museum.)
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
RADON GAS gamma ray risks HISTORICALLY IN THE URANIUM industry, exposure to radioactive particles in the form of radon gas and direct ionizing radiation, combined with poor mine ventilation and lack of worker safety protective devices such as respirators, was the cause of excess lung cancer and other respiratory disease in underground miners. Alpha radiation is classified as a Class A human carcinogen—the worst—by the EPA because of the evidence of excess lung cancer incidence and mortality in underground European and American uranium miners. Some authorities “weigh” alpha exposure risk levels as somewhere around 20 times the risk compared to whole body exposure to gamma radiation, which is emitted by uranium ore bodies and by uranium mine and mill waste dumps. In 1987, Dr. J.D. Milar, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health for NIOSH, strongly recommended that uranium mine and mill workers meet a standard for alpha particulate-radon gas exposure that was one fourth the standard that we still have today. He did so based on studies of “35 years, over 3,000 miners and thousands of measurements”. However, Dr. Milar added, “Although I am approving this…standard, I do not believe that….the recommended standard fully meets (NIOSH) commitment to protect all the nation’s miners.” Dr. Milar stressed that NIOSH analysis showed “significant health risks” even at the proposed stronger standard. He recommended that mine operators treat the proposed limit as “an upper level of exposure” and that they take further measures to protect workers. Milar added that he had accepted the standard in spite of his doubt because of a US Bureau of Mine study stressing the difficulties in reducing radon levels in mines. The Reagan and subsequent administrations took no action on the recommendation. The inmine radon exposure standard remains four times higher than the proposed standard that, to President Reagan’s occupational health agency, still was inadequate to protect health. “The bottom fell out of the uranium market and the presumption may have been that with no mining, there was no need for a new standard”, says NIOSH epidemiologist Mary Shubauer-Berrigan, “The upsurge in uranium mining should make that alpha exposure standard a viable issue again.” Surprisingly, however, the levels of gamma rays that a worker may be exposed to have been little measured by regulatory authorities such as MSHA. Understanding real-life exposure is the key to understanding what risks a nuclear energy worker may face and is the weak link in radioactive risk analyses. The BEIR 7 study of gamma radiation health risks included estimates of excess cancer deaths at differing levels of exposure to gamma radiation. When estimates are made of health risk for nuclear industry workers in general, one enters new territory compared with other workplace hazards. Since the early 1980s approval of toxic
photo by William Woody
chemicals in the work place and the environment has been evaluated, in part, by stating “excess cancer risk” Frequently acceptance of a chemical has been controversial if it causes 1 excess cancer in 10,000 people exposed at a particular level of exposure. More commonly, it is rubber-stamped as “acceptable” if it doesn’t exceed a risk of one in a million. But radioactivity is in a different category for cancer risk than chemical toxicity. Although estimates have varied greatly, and some claim the risk is less, you have a lifetime excess cancer risk of 1 in 286 from exposure to background radiation according to the International Commission on Radiological Protection or ICRP. This means that exposure to all sources of natural radiation — from sunlight to indoor radon to gamma rays from soils and building materials to the number of times you take commercial air flights at high altitudes — increases your cancer risk by that amount. In 2005 the ICRP estimated that a nuclear worker with 40 years in the “industry” meeting international standards roughly equivalent to the U.S. would have roughly a 1 in 31 excess cancer risk from exposure to alpha and gamma rays combined. ICRP data like this risk rate is used as a basis for U.S. radiation standards according to the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These estimates are based on many studies globally, although-generally lacking exposure data and often complete medical records. Uranium is also known, from hundreds of animal, occupational and human studies of exposure, to be a potent chemical toxin. In general, chemical toxicity refers to biological effects of uranium as a soluble metal, not as a radioactive substance. Numerous studies have shown that uranium miners employed prior to 1971 contracted lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, fibrosis of the lung, silicosis, pneumoconiosis, renal (kidney) cancer and chronic renal disease and injury at rates far higher than the general population. Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1990 to compensate miners for these health effects, and in 2000, enacted amendments to RECA to include uranium millers and ore haulers and to broaden the list of compensable diseases. A third RECA may pass Congress in the next two years. The U.S. Department of Labor in conjunction with the Department of Justice administers the RECA program. (See interview with Grand Junction attorney Keith Killian.) Updated statistics on DOJ’s compensation awards can be viewed at http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/torts/const/reca/
photo by William Woody
MUDDLED federal exposure documentation and record keeping WHAT IS PERHAPS most startling in trying to understand the health problems related to past uranium mining and processing is the lack of data—even when it was gathered after standards were applicable to mining after 1971. Prior to 1978, MSHA’s predecessor, the Mine Engineering and Safety Administration, collected worker exposure data that, agency officials say, were put onto some kind of electronic format that is completely unreadable today—or at least nobody has put the effort required into cracking its electronic code. If there are hard copies of pre-1978 medical records, nobody knows where they are. There is data from 1978 to 1982 on miners in hard copy in Denver, but these need to be sorted through manually. Data from 1983 to the present are available through NIOSH on-line—although the information is only available for the time that someone was employed; if they became sick five years later, no reports of their illnesses are made. NISOH doesn’t have any health studies based on analysis of post-83 records. Chris Shuey is an environmental health specialist and advocate who has nearly three decades of tracking uranium impacts on the Navajo Nation and in the Southwest for Albuquerque-based nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) . Shuey points out that post-1971 regulations required companies to measure in-mine radon and gamma radiation levels, and keep track of worker exposures and report those exposures annually.
However, said Shuey, it’s not clear the records still exist, or if do, whether they can be accessed. “Nobody has looked at these MSHA and earlier records and it may be impossible to read them,” Shuey said. “Keep in mind that we are
What is perhaps most startling in trying to understand the health problems related to past uranium mining and processing is the lack of data. talking about records for those first years when, allegedly, occupational health practices were supposedly improving after 1971 regulations passed. This is critical data to assess whether the health of workers was protected, and our government has no access to it.” MSHA’s rules also require companies to report worker illnesses, he added, “but no mining company is required to report that some worker said they were sick after they quit with a possible work-related condition.” NIOSH reported that several studies on Navajo mine and mill workers indicated that, even after the 1971 regulations were in place, 90% of the post-1971 workers said that their protection was inadequate and that they had developed respiratory problems related to mining and
milling. Navajo workers, in a variety of NIOSH archived studies, have been found to smoke cigarettes far less than white workers in the southwestern U.S. Shuey said that the current lack of data on health conditions among post-1971 uranium workers and residents of communities impacted by releases of wastes from mines and mills is a sad testimony to events in the early 1980s. “Government and industry officials and academics belittled SRIC’s recommendations to establish a disease registry in Navajo communities impacted by 20 years of uranium mining. This included the massive mill tailings spill into the Puerco River in Churchrock, NM in 1979. “We were told that a registry or some type of surveillance program was unnecessary, that we wouldn’t detect increased disease rates because local populations are too small,” he said. “Thousands of deaths and morbidities (sicknesses) later, we still have scant and primitive information, no comprehensive health studies have been done, all the sites we named as high priorities are contaminated, and most of the groundwater cleanups at uranium tailings sites have failed.” “We need a RECA reform that will include requirements that all the old medical records be sorted out and tracked and that all future workers and resident be tracked and followed for exposure and disease,” he said. “God knows, we can no longer say that we don’t know the risks.”
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
IMPACTS ON THOSE WHO DO NOT WORK IN THE MINES OR MILLS. WHEN EXAMINING radiological and chemical impacts of uranium mining, processing and utilization, there are many affected who do not work in the mines or mills. A worker at home, their spouses, children, laundromats, streets and gardens may all be pathways of exposure to uranium and other contaminants. Unfortunately, if the workplace is difficult to measure and environmental monitoring in the general environment provides results that are debated---day-to-day life exposure is little monitored. The old uranium-vandium-radium millsite of Uravan in west Montrose County along Spring Creek and the Dolores River was dismantled, and the tailings covered, along with wastes from other nearby uranium and vanadium mills, because of concerns for long-term radiological contamination of the local and regional environments. Union Carbide ran a vintage vanadium and later uranium mill and multiple mines in Uravan from 1928 until 1984. By 1986, pervasive contamination forced evacuation of the town. Testimony in a 2004 lawsuit against Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) described children sliding down tailings piles, food stored in the mines, workers leaving without showering or changing clothes. Washing machines discharged yellowish water.
Uravan and Monticello Studies Two studies published in 2007 by Vanderbilt University researchers found significant increased risks of death from lung cancer among Montrose County residents and former uranium miners residing in the Uravan district, but no increased mortality risk for any other cancer. Noncancerous diseases were not investigated. However the Vanderbilt studies did not determine that non-uranium workers in the population had higher cancer rates. Other health studies have had varied results in determining whether disease rates are higher among people living near a uranium mill that began operating in 1943. For instance, a 2006 Utah Department of Health (UDOH) study found no evidence of increased frequency of cancers through 2004 among Monticello, Utah, residents who lived in the town during the time a uranium mill operated and before it was reclaimed.
photo by Dick Kamp
Energy Fuels VP Dick White sees the Uravan Superfund site as the failings of the past. UDOH contradicted the Monticello “mill neighbors” study in December 2007 using more precise methods to ascertain cancer cases. The state detected significantly elevated rates of lung, bronchial and stomach cancers, compared with overall state rates, for the period 1973 and 2004 and said it was “plausible” that the mill could be a source. Population-based cancer studies have a common weakness: individual exposures are not known and cannot be evaluated. Pollution surrounding the Homestake millsite near Grants, N.M., has left both toxic and radiological hazards—and hundreds of anecdotal disease reports, but no formal epidemiological investigation. These studies are sometimes difficult to evaluate, points out NIOSH epidemiologist Lynne Pinkerton, “because there is a self-filtering phenomenon one finds among both workers and residents in uranium industry communities: the
sickest people tend to leave and so you often are studying a population that may be more resistant to health conditions.” Additionally, epidemiologists say, the “healthy worker” factor often masks occupational diseases because people who work are generally healthier than people in the general population. Paradox resident and mill opponent Marie Moore considers herself an example of how pathways of exposure to uranium poisoning could take place during only a four month period of time. From September through December 1995, Moore coordinated a project for Nature Conservancy (TNC) building a picnic ground along Spring Creek in Uravan with Americorps volunteers. “We were told the area we were working was cleaned up so we wore no protective clothing. We dug holes, planted native plants, made trails, a bathroom, picnic tables. A few months later I developed lower back pain and stomach problems. I didn’t relate it to working there and it continued for many years.” In 1997, she visited the site again and found the evidence of her work gone. TNC staff told her that the area she worked had been found contaminated. It was covered with earth along with the rest of the townsite of Uravan, and was fenced in as part of the site. Prior to the visit, and after her Uravan work, she had developed an area of raw skin that would not heal and necrotic dead tissue was found near a herniated disc in her back. “Where else could that have come from”, said Moore. Moore’s complaints are “anecdotal” or isolated, and compared to hundreds of other uranium industry working families--minor. Unfortunately more severe conditions facing workers are also considered anecdotal due to lack of documentation and the complexity with which ionizing radiation affects the human body. Navajos who live next to uranium waste dumps described a variety of maladies in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007. New health studies of communities exposed to uranium wastes, to be released in 2009 by University of New Mexico, Eastern Navajo Health Board and SRIC, have indicated a prevalence of kidney disease related to uranium exposure.
photo by Dick Kamp
REED HAYES: “Mistakes Will Get Made” SEVENTY-ONE YEAR old Reed Hayes of Paradox worked at the Atlas mill in Moab, Utah, now a Superfund site. “I was there the day the mill opened in 1955,” he said “and worked there until the fall of ’67.” In July of 1967, he was working the graveyard shift when, due to the negligence of a worker on the day shift, he fell into a tank of yellowcake. Hayes was walking along a catwalk above the tanks. The lights were off and he couldn’t see where he was going. “Nobody roped it off and I fell straight into the tank 12 feet deep,” Hayes said. “When I climbed out, my supervisor told me to go home, take a shower, change clothes and come back to work.” “The vat contained uranium oxide, ammonium and nitric acid,” said Hayes. “A month later I came down with this case of hives and they’ve been my scourge ever since. There was no history of hives in my family, nothing before this incident and now I’ve had them for 41 years.” Later, Hayes said, “I took a RECA (Radiation Exposure Compensation Act) exam for miners and millers: I went to Grand Junction and went through a battery of tests. I’m a nonsmoker and my lungs are good. I got letters from three of my doctors and got a letter from a friend that saw me climb out of the tank. I sent it to also to the U.S. (Department of Labor-) and described other conditions in the mill that hurt people while I worked there, safety issues.” Hayes has been treated with steroid creams and large quantities of Alegra, an antihistamine that temporarily controls the itching with-
out making him drowsy. He says that his insurance claimed he could be using cheaper antihistamines, although they make him tired. They denied payment for his medications, in spite of his physican in Norwood writing a letter backing his claim, as has his former doctor in Moab. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (RECA section) has refused to compensate Hayes for his medical problems.. This is in spite of the fact that a symptomatic description of hives is backed by both the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and industrial Manufacturer Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) for uranium oxide (the main concentrate in yellowcake) that describe similar skin outbreaks. His case is now going to the Department of Labor. OSHA references to uranium poisoning include the statement, “The signs and symptoms of uranium-induced dermatitis may include irritation, redness, blistering, thickening, or hyperpigmentation of the skin.” MSDS sheets for uranium oxide list dermatitis as the number one condition as a result of chronic exposure to uranium oxide. Dr. Mary Schubauer-Berrigan a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health epidemiologist says she knows of no epidemiological studies done on mill or mineworkers and dermatitis. Falling into a vat of uranium may have been unique, “I don’t know of anybody else who did,” said Hayes, “but they never gave us any protective clothing nor told us it was dangerous. Got over 20 people I could name off the top of my head got severely sick from mills or mines here
Reed Hayes of Paradox or in the Moab area. Most of them are dead.” Hayes said he’s heard Energy Fuel’s CEO George Glasier’s arguments that new technology will avoid past health disasters if uranium mining and milling begin again in the Uravan district. He doesn’t buy it. “Mistakes will be made,” he said.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
TIMELINE URAVAN MINERAL BELT URANIUM MINING This is a mix of information from Rimrocker Historical Museum in Naturita, Colorado State Historical Fund, Center of Southwest Studies, USEPA CERCLA, U.S. DOE, Geologist Dick White of Energy Fuels, Inc, Wickipedia, and www.Uravan.com) Colorado has the third-largest uranium resources in the U.S. The Uravan mineral belt includes parts of San Miguel, Montrose, and Mesa counties, as well as Grand County, Utah. The mining districts include Slick Rock, Gypsum Valley, Uravan, and Gateway mining districts. The Gateway district includes the Energy Fuels permitted Whirlwind mine. • 1871-1872: Discovery of first uranium in pitchblende deposits near Center City, Colo. • 1880s: Ore discovered in western Montrose County by Thomas Talbert containing uranium, radium and vanadium. • 1898: Samples of ore found in the Rock Creek area of Montrose County are shipped to France. Ore is named “carnotite” and is believed to be profitable for mining -- first for vanadium to harden steel; for uranium, and for processing as radium. Mining in the district was primarily for the vanadium at first. On average there is five times as much vanadium in carnotite than uranium. • 1899-1911: Madame Curie’s medical institute in France creates a market for radium, ultimately determining that Uravan belt carnotite is economic to mine and concentate at mills. Claims are staked in present Uravan district. Ore is sent to France for milling.
• 1912-1913: Standard Chemical Corp. establishes first radium recovery operation and mines open in present Uravan area. • 1914-1915: Standard Chemical Corp. opens Joe Jr. concentrator-mill in what will become Uravan to process radium. Housing established in area. Montrose County becomes world’s largest producer of radium. • 1921-1923: Mines and mill closes in the Uravan belt as Belgian Congo in Africa produces cheap and copious amounts of radium from pitchblende deposits. • 1928: U.S. Vanadium Corp. buys mill site and converts it to produce vanadium to harden steel. • 1936: U.S. Vanadium is purchased by Union Carbon and Carbide Company, later Union Carbide Corp., and later, regionally, UMETCO. Since 2001, Union Carbide has been owned by Dow Chemical. Union Carbide establishes Uravan as a company town in 1936. Mills also built in the region by other companies in Nucla , Naturita, Durango, and in Monticello, Moab, and Lisbon, Utah. • 1943-1945: U.S. military takes over Uravan mill to produce uranium for the atomic bombs built at Los Alamos and tested in New Mexico before dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. A military uranium refinery is built in Grand Junction, Colo., as a subsequent stage. • 1946-1984: Union Carbide Uravan Mill is expanded for nuclear weapons grade uranium and later for uranium yellowcake to be refined and enriched for nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants after 1957, which is now the sole permitted purpose for uranium production. After 1950, new open uranium mining claims were halted and government
leases, now under the Department of Energy, were established covering known deposits and put out for limited bid. Uranium prices declined by 1980 and continued to do so and the Uravan mill and others closed by 1984. • 1986-2008: Prices remained low through early 2004. Uravan mill site is declared EPA Superfund site, officially declared remediated in September, 2008. Some $120 million is expended on razing town site, burying mill and other regional uranium mill wastes. Most regional uranium mines closed by 2005, as does Canon City Mill, leaving only the White Mesa, Utah mill currently operating. Uranium prices rose dramatically 2004-2007 from less than $16 pound in early 2004 to almost $140 pound in mid-2007 on speculation of possible nuclear power plant construction and other factors. • 2007: Energy Fuels Corp. announces intent to build the Pinon Ridge Mill. Spot prices drop to $45 pound by late October 2008. Adjusted for inflation, these prices are not the lowest historically but similar to early-1980s prices when the industry was declining. • 2008: Future of uranium mining and milling remains economically in doubt. Extension of foreign contracts and strategies to address climate change that may or may not include large scale nuclear growth will be major factors in a time of global reduced economic growth. Pinon Ridge mill project continues to move ahead.
KEITH KILLIAN & JENNIFER MCCALL:
Helping Uranium Victims Get Compensated photo courtesy of Killian, Jensen & Davis, Attorneys, Grand Junction
GRAND JUNCTION -- Grand Junction attorney Keith Killian has spent the last 17 years trying to help victims of uranium exposure claim U.S. government compensation under the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act (RECA), which Congress first passed in 1990 and updated in 2000. Killian says both versions of RECA have been flawed.
The Reed Hayes Case Reed Hayes of Paradox. (see sidebar) Hayes worked in a mill for 12 years. His most frightening exposure was the night he arrived at the uranium mill and found the lights off. He tried to make his way down a catwalk above a vat of yellowcake uranium. The worker from the previous shift had also left a gate open. Hayes took one step too many and fell into the inferno of yellowcake. For the past 41 years he has suffered from severe hives over his entire body. Despite the extreme exposure, Hayes has been denied compensation under RECA, in part because his skin problems simply weren’t included in the law. According to Hayes’ lawyer, Keith Killian, Hayes’ condition is considered “anecdotal,” that is, undocumented by the company Hayes worked for and not covered in the laws or Federal worker safety agencies. “Given the past history of uranium mills, it is not surprising that Reed fell into yellowcake. Jennifer (McCall, Killian’s chief paralegal who has also worked on these issues since the 90s) was trying to sort it out: a man falls into vat of yellowcake. Can he get compensated for his symptoms or for his disease? The evidence plus the symptoms are common to uranium oxide. “Reed Hayes was denied benefits under RECA through the Department of Justice (DOJ) because he has had no “medical exposure” under that agency’s requirements—he has dermatitis and not kidney disease or respiratory disease from his 40 plus working level months of exposure. “The second (option for Hayes) is the Department of Labor (DOL) Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation and we are pursuing that avenue. (These are post 2001 and 2004 benefits established for mine, mill and transportation and other workers who either worked for the Department of Energy or helped produce or process uranium under their guidelines.) “Now I think Hayes’ falling into the yellowcake vat was the tip of the iceberg of conditions. Remember, most of the lung cancer victims are dead, mostly miners. The millers’ exposure was, overall, probably less than ore haulers. For the millers and ore haulers, kidneys were included but not dermatitis, even though OSHA lists it as a symptom of chronic uranium exposure. “There isn’t any one size fits all when trying to get compensation for a uranium-caused medical condition. You are trying to get beyond that description of a condition as ‘anecdotal.’ An anecdote has meaning: the anecdotal history of a uranium worker’s or a resident’s disease is
the story of a life and a death. People didn’t know then, nor do they know now, exactly how they got sick. The anecdotal data shows that many people have lost their lives, “said Killian.
Less Money, Less Attorneys Killian said that a provision in RECA caused a lot of attorneys who used to represent uranium victims to drop out. It has also affected which cases attorneys take. “There used to be lots of attorneys, maybe 15, who did this work until the fee dropped from 10% to 2% of benefits—10% if we appeal-- and now we have maybe six. (Now) we end up following through with a low percentage of RECA applicants who we think will meet the criteria, at best one in four. (I figure that) over the past 17 years probably (only) one in ten (persons exposed to uranium) who contacted us followed through with applying through us. “We are about 99% successful when we do decide to take on a case. Thousands of people have contacted us; we’ve screened about 2,000 but we don’t try to take on their cases unless we think they will seriously meet the criteria of either the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Department of Labor (DOL) or both.
The History of RECA “A little background: when the 1990 law passed to enable compensation under RECA, it was basically written for miners who worked prior to 1971, when occupational health and safety regulations were passed. Formulae were developed that guided compensation that were meant to be consistent with uranium mining exposure and you need a course in calculus to figure them out. “If you smoked, you had to have 500 uranium “working level months” and if not, 200 working level months. You had to show three things: you were exposed to a great deal of radiation, you had been diagnosed with a qualifying disease, and you had to document your smoking habits. “During the 1980s, health researchers encountered a great deal of disease from uranium mining, milling, hauling, core drilling; a lot more than expected. A lot of cancer victims died in the 60s, but then the numbers dwindled. A moderate amount (died) in the 70s, By the 80’s, fewer cancer victims were alive. “So the government said, ‘Oh wow, maybe these guys live wild lives and smoke cigarettes and that’s the main problem.’ That was RECA 1. “By the time RECA 2 changes came in 2000 to cover transporters, “downwinders” who lived down-wind of nuclear tests, (and) millers, regulators and legislators said that the whole level of exposure should be changed and dropped to 40 “uranium working months” and they added ore truck drivers. NOTE: A “working level month”is 170 hours exposure to a level of radon—alpha radiation-of 100 picuries per liter. The first 1990 RECA bill thus required exposure to 20,000 picocuries per liter for a nonsmoker or 50,000 picocuries
per liter for a smoker. By comparison, EPA has a home radon exposure standard of an average of 4 picocuries per liter averaged for one year. As Killian points out—it is confusing “The difficulty for many applicants has frequently been this amount of so-called working level months that a miner, a mill worker or a “downwinder” can document. Lots of mines, mills and companies are gone so the records are gone and we need medical documentation that either never took place or is not available. “Downwind counties are in Arizona, Utah and Nevada; not in Colorado. They are reflective of very specific exposures and had to have been from January 1950 to October 1958 and you have to prove two years of exposure. Also (there was) one specific (bomb) test in July ’62. “A downwinder gets paid $50,000 for cancer; a miner gets $100,000 plus $50. DOL gives additional health benefits beyond cash for miners, millers and ore haulers. If you were exposed at the nuclear test site, there’s $75,000 no medical. “All this is a labyrinth. We are working our way through technicalities; our expertise is collecting documentation to establish the criteria the law requires. (We’re trying to find) records that barely existed for people who had diseases in the ‘60s, who may have been dead 40 years. In some cases direct family members can collect; in others not. We tell a lot of people, sorry, the law is like a checkerboard. More than 50% of my clients are not alive and I’m representing widows and children, mainly children. “All of our cases date from pre-1971 because Congressional logic said that supposedly conditions were worse then with no regulation. My view is that exposure to a certain amount of uranium, whatever that amount is, is enough to kill you if you live long enough. And the actual exposures, even after 1971, were documented very poorly.
Will a new Energy Fuels mill avoid the problems of the past? “Here’s my point of view. From a logical standpoint, I don’t know the answer to how little or great a risk the mines that feed the Energy Fuels mill, or the mill, itself, pose. I don’t stand in opposition to the uranium industry legally or politically. I make my living from it. “So even as a lawyer I can only give you an emotional answer for those people in the graveyards and that answer is that there is no safe way to handle this substance. “Our society wants energy and low gas prices. If they find people who are willing to sacrifice themselves to make the profit, then society will again decide it’s worth the price. Like in the 1800s, (when industrial pollution and working conditions caused many health related illnesses), we have a capitalist system that works wonderfully, with social (and medical) costs “I should interject that personally, after reading many studies and representing many uranium workers, I believe that uranium is very dangerous stuff. Even the most conservative medical panels say there is no threshold of exposure that is safe.”
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
Nucla Freshman Class 1942
Yellowcake slurry tailings Uravan Millers, 1961
Uravan Mill 1943-45 The military, Manhattan Project provided yellowcake for the atomic bomb. (photo courtesy Rimrocker Historical Museum, Naturita)
Moving drill rig 1915 (photo, Standard Chem. Co.)
Uravan Mill c.1946-1956. Expanded as Union Carbide mill. (courtesy Rimrocker Historical Museum, Naturita)
Uravan Mill circa 1960
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
MONTROSE DAILY PRESS
NAVAJO MINERS AND “BAD SPIRITS” photo by William Woody
“There is a book that describes the situation of the Navajo best. It’s called “If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans” by Peter Eichstaedt. The title quote is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. A character asks, “If you poison us, do we not die?” We represented thousands of Navajo miners in the 1970s and 80s and many of these people are dead. “The process of establishing claims has been particularly difficult among the Navajo, not just because of the lack of records on the reservation allowing us to diagnose disease, but even establishing where some of the mines were. We honestly don’t know where many of them worked. “We’ve worked with the Navajo Nation for years and they asked us not to lobby, but to work with key Congressmen to move the next RECA 3 reform along and it is coming. Maybe we will have RECA 3 by 2010 and we can deal with post-1971 worker exposure, as well as those who lived near uranium mills and mines and expand the areas where downwinders have been exposed. “Now if you lived on certain areas of the Navajo reservation and never worked in the mine, you definitely had proximity exposure, vicinity exposure, whatever the term should be. These areas were and are hot. (Some areas near the old Homestake mill site near Grants, NM, by Navajo residences have had EPA recorded Gamma ray readings as high as uranium veins in the Whirlwind mine.) “(I personally feel that) it doesn’t matter what the working conditions were, pre ‘71 compared to post ‘71. Logic says it matters whether mines had fans or how hot it was. I defer to those conducting the medical research,; who weigh the impacts of fans and radon or Gamma ray exposure. But radiation exists whether there’s a fan or not removing the radon gas. The Navajo say it’s a bad spirit. Others say its Gamma rays. It’s bad stuff: it will get you photo by Doug Brugge eventually.
Navajo miners, at Miner’s Cove, Ariz. 1952
Uranium ad from the 195 0’s
Promise of a golden future
Yellow uranium ore from the Colorad o Plateau is helping to bring atomic wonders to you
Long ago, Indian braves made their war paint from the colorful sandstones of the Colorado Plate au.
miner Paul Nakaidenae, Red Valley, AZ (Below) Navajo miners in New Mexico, 1960s. photos courtesy: Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College
THEY USED URANIUM - Their
brilliant yellows came from carnotite, the important uranium-bearin this century, this ore supplied radium g mineral. Early in tists, Marie and Pierre Curie, and later for the famous scienvanadium for special alloys and steels. Today, this plateau-stretching over Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona-is parts of Colorado, source of uranium. Here, now comm our chief domestic and airplanes replace the burro: Geigeunities thrive: jeeps the divining rod and miner's hunch. r counters supplant From hundreds of mines that are often in the hills, carnotite is hauled to proce just small tunnels vanadium is extracted, the uranium, ssing mills. After the form of "yellow-cake," is shipped to concentrated in the atomic energy plants.
A NEW ERA BECKONS - What does for you? Already radioactive isotopesatomic energy promise are working wonders
in medicine, industry, and agriculture. In atomic energy, scientists also see a vision of unknown powe may heat and light your home, and r - which someday ships, and aircraft. The Indian's war propel submarines, paint is on the march again - toward a golden future.
S AN IMPORTANT PART - The people of Union Carbide locate, mine, and refine urani operate for the Government the huge um ore. They also atomic materials plants at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Paducah, Ky., National Laboratory, where radioisotop and the Oak Ridge es are made. FREE: For an illustrated story of the fascin ating uranium country of the Colorado Plate write for the booklet "Mesa Miracle." Ask for bookletau, B.
UN I O N CA R B I D E AN D CA RB ON CO RP OR AT
ION 30 EAST 42ND STRE ET UCC NEW YORK 17, N.Y. UCC’s Trade-marked Products of Alloys, Carbons, Chemicals, Gases , and Plastics include ELECTROMET Alloys and Metals • HAYNES STELLITE Alloys • EVERREADY Flashl ights and Batteries • NATIONAL ACHESON Electrodes • PYROFAX Gas Carbons • PRESTONE AND TREK Anti-Freeze • PREST-O-LITE Acetylene BAKELITE, KRUSE, and VINYLITE Plastics • DYNEL TEXTILE Fibers • LINDE Oxygen • SYNTHETIC ORGANIC CHEMICALS
Miners in a Union Carbide affiliated mine providing ore to Uravan mill. (c.1946-1965) (courtesy Rimrocker Historical Museum, Naturita, donated by Union Carbide.)