Uranium Updates: 'Heal, Baby, Heal' - 'Blast, Baby, Blast'
By Kathy Helms
COVE, Ariz – It's been nearly 70 years since uranium mining began on the Navajo Nation and the first of 231 mines opened in Cove, Ariz. Residents say the uranium also produced a monster, or Nayee, that 42 years after the mining in Cove stopped, is still making people sick.
For the small community, Thursday was a historic day. Representatives of Navajo Area Indian Health Service rolled into the chapter house parking lot with an 18-wheeler, its Wellness on Wheels Van, to offer free health screenings and education.
The “Community Uranium Exposure – Journey to Healing” program was congressionally mandated through a five-year plan to look at community uranium exposure. It focuses on people who have been exposed to uranium by living in a certain community rather than working as a uranium miner or miller.
“The health screening is really general health screening. It's what we would do if someone came into a clinic for their annual physical exam,” said Lisa Allee, program director, based at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock. But they also have participants complete questionnaires relative to uranium exposure.
“For example, it asks about where they get their water; if they are eating their own livestock, where do the animals graze; how close to a mine or mill do they live; did they ever live with a miner and did that person come home with dust on their clothing or boots; and did they travel with that miner or miller,” Allee said.
“That's a very common story: 'My father was a miner, we traveled with him and we played in the mine, and we drank water out of the mine.'”
There really isn't a great way to screen people for uranium in their bodies, Allee said. “A urine uranium test is expensive and its usefulness is somewhat questionable because uranium can be cleared through the kidneys in three days.” If a person tests positive, they probably were exposed in the last week. But if it's negative, it doesn't mean they were not exposed; it's just not in their urine.
“We're checking for the 'footprint' of uranium – the effects it had when it was there, or if it's there currently. The footprint we know with pretty good certainty is kidney problems, so monitoring how people's kidneys are functioning is very important,” she said. Beyond that, while there are many suspected health results, western medical studies are inconclusive. “More research needs to be done,” she said.
Perry Charley of Dine College said that of the 231 mines in Cove, Mesa No. 2 Mine was the biggest producer of uranium with 1,285,000 pounds of ore. Though tribal and federal officials say 202 of those mines have been reclaimed, Charley begs to differ.
“There are 84 mines with problems remaining. These mines are not reclaimed or are situated in very precarious situations. To open them up is going to cause more environmental degradation,” he said.
Kathleen Tsosie grew up in Cove and was raised by her grandparents until the time of their death. Her grandfather, two of her uncles and her father all worked in the Mesa 2 area, where she and her grandmother used to herd sheep. There were some uranium tailings piled here and there, and naturally, she and her friends and family were exposed.
“They were considered corn pollen, because they were yellow. What did we know when we were little?! I used to play around in those and then later we were told, 'Don't be playing around there, it's not safe,'” she said. “Just like everybody else's story, we had picnics near the mine, drank the water, inhaled the dust from my father's clothes when he came back. I'm like the third generation.”
A few years ago Tsosie was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the biggest challenge of her life. She had to go through chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and radiation treatments.
“I encountered the biggest bone ache for over two years. My bones were constantly aching until last year, Aug. 12. I'm finally pain-free, like 95 percent. I'm still going through my everyday medicine for the next five years. I also get checked every four to six months by the doctors in Farmington at the cancer center. They're very, very excellent.”
They also have a support group and Tsosie started meeting with them before she ever went in for surgery. “I gained a lot of sisters,” she said, and was one step ahead of everything, it seemed, because they advised her on what kind of medicine to take, what kind of lotion and makeup to use, and even which exercise was best.
“I had long hair before I went for my treatment,” she said. There was a long pause as she wiped away tears and tried to regain her composure.
“Part of my spirit was taken. My health. Everything changed. My thinking changed, my self-esteem changed because I lost all my hair. My fingernails, my toenails, they all turned black because of the chemo treatments. I started having a lot of bone aches in my system. I couldn't really eat anything because I had really horrible headaches when I was going through my chemo.
“My mom was still alive at the time and I borrowed my mom's cane. I would sit there eight hours for my treatment of chemo. They put a port in me. It's like a little mouse and it has a tail that goes down. They would put that chemical in there – it was something like an IV – and it would just go into my system. Most of the time I slept through my treatments. The only thing that helped me was eating ice or something cold and slushy. Afterwards, I didn't really want to eat.”
Her children sometimes would go to the chemo treatments with her. She went for radiation treatment five days a week for five or six weeks, she can't really remember now. She had breast implants, so that was a plus, she said.
“When I was first told that I had breast cancer, I thought that was the end of the world for me. The first thing I thought about was my children and my grandchildren,” she said, starting to cry again. “I was into a new relationship at this time and I thought about that also. There were too many, 'What ifs?' I took it one day at a time, and I prayed every day. I would pray most of the day.
“People ask me if I go to church. I've always believed that no matter what religion you're in, the one thing that is the most powerful thing is prayer. Whether you're into Native American Church or Christianity, it doesn't matter, as long as you know you do the right thing. I believe in that.”
Tsosie has two daughters, ages 28 and 22, and a son, 19. She was at the hospital for the birth of one of her grandchildren. The baby was stillborn, she said. “My daughter, she's the fourth generation. I believe it's all genetic from all this uranium. That's what I told her.”
Mary Helen Begay of Oljato lives about a mile from her mother-in-law, Elsie Begay, a central figure in the documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy,” which was shown to the Cove audience. Both women were at Thursday's screening along with documentary co-producer Jeff Spitz.
Federal and tribal environmental officials are only now beginning to address contamination from the Skyline Mine directly behind Elsie's home in Oljato.
“It's pretty much about the same all over,” said Mary Helen. “I think the government should come back and clean up whatever they left behind. It's their duty to clean up everything. If it was done back in the earlier years they could have prevented a lot of health problems and health issues we're dealing with right now.”
Nunavut Board Starts Long Review Of Kiggavik Uranium Project - Process Could Stretch to 2019
By JANE GEORGE
Nunavut News - Canada
Submitted by Ann VanWert
Five uranium mines in one — that sums up the much-talked about Kiggavik project that Areva Resources Canada wants to build near Baker Lake, now the subject of public meetings throughout the Kivalliq’s seven communities.
During these meetings, organized by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, people can learn more about the $1.5 billion project and at the same time, tell the review board what they think.
These meetings, which started April 25 in Baker Lake and will end May 10 in Rankin Inlet, are aimed at helping the review board draft guidelines for Kiggavik’s final environmental impact statement, a detailed study of every part of the project and its potential impacts on people and the environment.
So far, Kivalliq residents have said they want to know more about the social and economic impacts of the project, which promises to create between 400 and 600 jobs worth at least $200 million in wages over 25 years.
And they want more information about Kiggavik’s possible impacts on the land, water, air and wildlife and how Areva plans to limit these impacts.
Areva intends to submit its EIS on Kiggavik, with “all the answers” to these question in early 2011, Barry McCallum, the project’s Nunavut manager, said in an April 29 interview from Repulse Bay.
If the EIS passes its review and is accepted, construction on the project could begin in 2017 and the mine would start production in 2020, he said.
But the final decision to move ahead with Kiggavik wouldn’t be made until all the permits are in place, sometime in 2019 and 2020.
“Community acceptance will have to be passed, environmental protection will have to be passed and economics will have to be passed. If we’re missing any one of those, the project cannot proceed,” McCallum said.
“We can’t be sure that the economics will be there until we get fairly close. It’s a test that will always have to be passed,” he said.
The project calls for one underground and four open-pit mines on two nearby sites, a 100-km road from Baker Lake to the main complex, bridges, a port facility, an airstrip, a residence for employees, warehouse and maintenance facilities, fuel tanks, explosives storage, water treatment plants, administration buildings, and haul roads.
That’s all set out in the 2008 project proposal, developed by Areva, which acquired the Kiggavik and Sissons uranium properties in 1993.
Those properties, 70 per cent of which cover Inuit-owned land, are basically the same ones that Urangesellschaft Canada Ltd. wanted to develop about 20 years ago.
Then, a hamlet plebiscite led by a group of concerned citizen’s in Baker Lake’s produced an overwhelming vote against project, with nine in 10 voters casting “no” ballots.
Urangesellschaft then asked an environmental assessment panel for an “indefinite delay” of the review process.
Areva’s new plan for Kiggavik is to excavate uranium ore, truck it to a mill, and produce between 2,000 and 4,000 tonnes of uranium per year as a concentrate, called “yellowcake.”
Areva says they would use clean waste rock from the mines as construction material or spread it over the land. It would stockpile “special waste” rock on the surface during operations and then backfill it into mined-out open pits afterwards.
Areva plans to treat tailings resulting from the extraction of uranium from the ore and deposit them underground in two mined-out open pits.
The mill would use site drainage, recycled tailings water, and fresh water from nearby lakes, treating all waste water afterwards, Areva says.
When Kiggavik’s activities wrap up, Areva proposes covering the site with crushed rock and soil, and building ramps “to allow safe caribou transit across the pile slopes.”
“The Kiggavik Project can be carried out safely, all potential environmental effects can be mitigated, and benefits to the people of the Kivalliq region can be realized,” Areva says.
However, NIRB said in its 2009 screening decision report that it has no doubt “this project may have significant adverse effects on the ecosystem, wildlife habitat or Inuit harvesting activities; adverse socio-economic effects on northerners; will cause significant public concern; and involves technological innovations for which the effects are unknown.”
Areva says its mitigation measures will minimize impacts to wildlife, although the company admits “given the large range of caribou, port, road, mine and associated construction and operation of these developments could result in increased human interaction and access to caribou herds.”
McCallum said the footprint of Kiggavik’s mine site is small, covering only about a two square-kilometre-square.
When the mine stops production after 17 years, another five years will be spent putting restoring the land as close to its natural state as possible, he said.
However, some research says uranium mine tailings remain hazardous due to radioactivity for more than 250,000 years and are associated with an increased cancer rate among humans, in addition to birth defects, high infant mortality and chronic lung, eye, skin and reproductive illnesses.
In 2007, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. reversed its longstanding opposition to uranium mining in Nunavut with a new policy that supports uranium mining that is socially and environmentally responsible.
Inuit impact and benefit agreements, which must be signed before any mining projects take place in the territory, are enough to protect Nunavummiut from the downsides of mining, NTI president Paul Kaludjak has repeatedly said.
TO SUBMIT an ARTICLE, OPINION PIECE, COMMENTS to the Native Unity Digest, e-mail
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.
News Blog - American Indian Report - AIR BLOG
THE BUFFALO POST - Missoulian Montana's Native News Blog about Native People And The World We Live In.
Check Out NATIVE PRIDE- It's a great site!
NATIVE AMERICA, DISCOVERED AND CONQUERED
PATHOLOGY.ORG - Up-to-date informmational database on general health and disease information, medical schools and medical resources.
FOR ANNIE'S NATIVE CELEBRITY NEWS
- go to http://www.nativecelebs.com/
SUPPORTING NATIVE AMERICAN/FIRST PEOPLE - ARTISTS, FILM MAKERS, ENTERTAINERS, ETC.