Uranium Mining

Navajo miners 1952
Navajo miners 1952

The Los Angeles Times has a series, Blighted Homeland, on dangers left from uranium mining in the 1940s and 1950s. Several tens of people drinking water from pits that contained tailings, and eating animals that drank the same water, developed neurological problems. Several died.

While the article lists both radioactivity and heavy metals (uranium, vanadium, selenium and arsenic), the symptoms appear to overlap better with heavy metal poisoning than with radioactivity; at least, they appear similar to problems I have been reading about in Bangladesh. The kidneys and other parts of the body that try to rid the body of heavy metals are most susceptible. Arsenic is more of a problem than uranium; I don’t know how vanadium and selenium compare to either.

The articles gave instances of EPA neglect of the problems or/and native American distrust of the US government that led to EPA people prohibited from further testing. If either contributed or is likely to contribute to further health problems, it needs to be addressed.

Meanwhile, the mining companies claim they have a different way to mine (see graphic). Some Navajo want to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar supply of uranium, while others suspect that the new technology will also lead to problems.

Note: For the purposes of the people who became sick, some of whom died, the primary issue is that insufficient cleaning up of the mines led to big health problems for several families. But if the problem is heavy metals, looking for radioactivity will not help.

I am definitely not an expert. Some of this information comes from someone much more knowledgeable who is also clear that she is not an expert.

According to Abstract: Arsenic in ground water of the western United States, arsenic is naturally more common in certain geochemical environments:

1. basin-fill deposits of alluvial-lacustrine origin, particularly in semiarid areas,
4. uranium and gold-mining areas.

Columbia University looks at the biggest arsenic problem in the world, in Bangladesh. Symptoms there are similar to what the Navajo are seeing.

Arsenic is a big problem in AZ ground water.

I would appreciate comments from knowledgeable people.

Again, mine companies are culpable for health and environmental consequences of the mine. Heavy metal poisoning is a major health and environmental consequence of all mining, and mine owners should be responsible for cleanup. Bringing radioactivity into the discussion may be irrelevant (is it? again, would appreciate knowledgeable comments) and confusing.

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