Enviros: Uranium mines still too hot
Local environmentalists said Thursday's findings on past uranium mining confirmed what they suspected: That it led to uranium contamination on the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon, and that mining is not safe.
"Where there was mining activity, they found contamination. Where there wasn't mining activity, they didn't find contamination," said Roger Clark, who handles air and energy programs for the Grand Canyon Trust.
Among other findings, the U.S. Geological Survey actually reported that water in 95 percent of the more than 1,000 sites the agency surveyed (including downstream of mined and unmined uranium deposits) was free enough of pollutants that it would meet Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.
People speaking on behalf of the Trust, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity found the report established mining left some contamination, and called that unacceptable, or the research not broad enough.
One cited contamination from past uranium mines of different kinds on tribal lands and in New Mexico.
"I think we should be holding the government and the industry hostage to cleaning up the legacy before any new mining is contemplated," said Taylor McKinnon, of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Sierra Club in Arizona would oppose uranium mining anywhere in the watershed of the Grand Canyon no matter the research on whether it could be done safely, said Stacey Hamburg.
Comparing water in the area to what the EPA would allow for drinking water lays out one widely understandable measure of its quality.
There is not a similar standard, however, for the materials left on the ground of the former mining sites.
Dust, ore and soil from mine sites -- reclaimed and particularly one that is not -- showed radiation and uranium at higher levels at the mine sites than across the landscape on average.
The "hottest" in radioactive terms was a mine along Kanab Creek that has not been backfilled, and is in a state that it could possibly be re-opened.
Dust from that mine was blowing around the area in the form of dust devils as researchers sampled.
All Arizona Strip mine sites sampled had uranium levels higher than the surrounding areas averaged, said Jim Otton, a USGS researcher who helped draft the report.
But the sites varied.
Mapping showed the radioactivity outside the mines' footprints fell off greatly outside the perimeters.
One had a layer of gravel covering waste rock that was not backfilled into the mine shaft, as was allowed. The company thoroughly covered the site, and only a few fragments of ore were left, Otton said.
Another had been established near the edge of a creek, when a 1980s flood washed ore and waste rock into the streambed.
Miners reported the flood, and said they walked up and down the creek to retrieve the ore they could find.
Researchers found some of that ore about one-half mile from the mine site.
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