.News Update 4/24/09

Federal Funds Directed to Uranium Tailings Victims and Cleanup

April 24, 2009

In recent months, the federal government has allocated several million dollars in funding for the cleanup of uranium tailings and for the care of those harmed by them.

Approximately $108 million in economic stimulus money was set aside for the removal of 16 million tons of radioactive tailings dumped on the banks of the Colorado River near Moab, Utah. Tailings are a byproduct of the rough processing of uranium ore. They can contain lead and arsenic and are often left at old mining sites, such as the Atlas Mineral Corporation facility near Moab. This waste is the legacy of the Cold War era. During the 1950s, Atlas mined uranium deposits for use in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. When the mine closed in 1984, Atlas left behind 903,000 tons of uncovered radioactive tailings covering about 40 acres.

Representative Jim Matheson of Utah worked to convince representatives of the Energy Department to move the tailings. In 2005 the government estimated that the cost of moving the tailings would be $1 billion. Originally, a deadline was set to complete the removal by 2028, but because of the new government funding, it looks as if the removal could be completed by 2019.

The waste is located very close to the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for 50 million people, including those living in Los Angeles. It is critical that the waste is moved as soon as possible. Representative Matheson said, "There is overwhelming scientific evidence that this site is unstable and that the contamination already migrating under the river towards the town of Moab could, with one major flood event, be dumped into the Colorado [River]."

The toxicity of the radioactive tailings has been highlighted by the Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure of Monticello, Utah. They posted the portraits of 257 people from Monticello and the surrounding areas that have died of cancer in the local post office. This number is significantly higher than national cancer rates and the portraits do not come close to representing all of the cancer victims in Monticello. The organization says there are closer to 533 present and former residents suffering from the cumulative effects of the Uranium-Vanadium mill. Over the course of 19 years, the mill emitted tons of contaminants, including radioactive materials, chemicals, heavy metals and poisonous gases.

The Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure recently received $381,000 in additional federal funding in acknowledgement of the link between the abnormally high rates of cancer rates and the uranium mill. The funding will be used for free cancer screening for everyone who lived in or around Monticello from 1941 to 2000. Vouchers will be sent from the Utah State Health Department Office for a free and complete cancer screening at the San Juan Hospital in Monticello.

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