Uranium Legacy Outrages Congress - Part 2
By Kathy Helms
Because statistics alone do not tell the full story, Etsitty demonstrated, using a sample of radioactive soil shipped from the Rare Metals site in Tuba City, “a site that we call Highway 160,” he said. “I have in front of me an instrument (Ludlum 19) that the Navajo Superfund uses to detect radioactive contaminants.
”This particular device detects gamma radiation. Gamma radiation is al throughout the cosmos and the atmosphere ... The sample that I have before me is covered, and as we get closer to it, you’ll hear the detection device starting to recognize the gamma radiation from the source,” he said.
There were a few audible beeps as Etsitty moved closer to the sample, which was 30 times above background level. “I’ll remove the cover and just let the device tell you what’s going on,” he said. The instrument began to beep furiously.
”The sounds that you have heard are just a small demonstration to show that Navajo families are, oftentimes, living within a few hundred yards of materials that we’re told we shouldn't be exposed to for more than an hour. But we have Navajo residents that have been living in these areas sometimes more than 40 or 50 years,” he said.
Dr. Brugge told the committee, “There has been too little research on the health impacts of uranium mining in Navajo communities. One study under way,for example, will mostly assess kidney disease, and not birth defects, cancer or neurological problems.
”Today, as we begin the public process of addressing community exposures, Ican only hope that the path is far shorter than the one traveled by theuranium miners and their families.”
Larry King, a former uranium miner, described the foul odor and yellowish color of the fluids associated with the Churchrock spill. "I remember that an elderly woman was burned on her feet from the acid in the fluid when she waded into the stream while herding her sheep.
”Many years later, when waterlines were being installed in the bed of the Puerco, I noticed the same odor and color in a layer about 8 feet below the stream bed. To this day, I don’t believe that contamination from the spill has gone away,” he said.
Edith Hood, who worked at Quivera, also known as the Kerr-McGee mine, was diagnosed with lymphoma in the summer of 2006. She talked about living on Red Water Pond Road, sandwiched between two abandoned mines, where she can still see equipment and “vent bags sticking out of the earth.”
”These places are still contaminated. I know because I learned how to survey the ground for radiation when our community got involved in a monitoring program in my area four years ago. I know because the government people told us it was,” she said.
”My father has pulmonary fibrosis. My mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. My grandmother and grandfather died of lung cancer. Many of my family members and neighbors are sick, but we don’t know what from. Today, there is talk of opening new mines. How can they open new mines when we haven't even addressed the health impacts and environmental damage of the old ones?” she asked.
Resources’ Harrison of Red Valley grew up in uranium mining camps, watching children playing on waste piles and drinking mine water, which also was used to mix infant formula. “My little brother, Herman James Harrison, died of a stomach ailment at the age of 6 months. He drank the uranium-contaminated water.”
My father died of lung cancer in 1971 at the age of 46. My cousin's father, also a mine worker, died of lung cancer at the age of 42. All of my brothers and sisters have thyroid problems and disorders. They didn't work in the mines but they grew up in places around contamination.
”I have scarring on my left lung. In 1999 my kidneys failed and I was on dialysis until 2001 when I received a kidney transplant from my sister. My story is not unusual,” he said.
Ray Manygoats of Tuba City told how his family cooked their meals on a grill his father brought from Rare Metals. The grill had been used to sift yellowcake. “We would play in the yellowcake sand at the mill, jumping and rolling around in it. We also found many small metal balls at the mill. The balls were used to crush and process the uranium. We played marbles with them and had contests to see how far we could throw them.”
Manygoats has had surgery three times to remove growths from his eyes. His father had breathing problems, he said. “Many of my sisters and brothers also have had problems with their eyes. I lost my mother to lung cancer and stomach cancer ... Another family member, Lucille, was never able to grow her hair and always wore a wig all her life.
"Today, I still live in the same area, the land of my family. The mill is nolonger operating, but the waste from the mill is everywhere,” he said.
Harrison told the committee, “It’s been about 25 years since the last mines closed. My people shouldn't have to wait another 25 years for the federal government to accept a responsibility that it should have accepted many years ago.”
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