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Abandoned Uranium Mines

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Submitted By kellie0929
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Abandoned Uranium Mines Summary by Kellie

I was really shocked when I began researching the topic of abandoned uranium mines. I knew there were health implications for those that lived near these mines, but I had no idea what the Navajo miners and their families went through. The issues that surprised me the most were how the miners were treated during the mining, how they are being compensated now, and how long it is going to take to clean up these abandoned mines. I also was quite surprised by the run-around I received when attempting to research this topic. Navajo miners were thankful for the mining jobs offered to them even though they were often paid below minimum wage and worked in horrendous conditions. The Navajo people trusted their bosses who were very often absent. Miners walked or took their horse or wagon to get to the mines, then they worked long hours without ventilation or protective equipment. They had no idea that working in the mines was associated with long-term health hazards. In fact, the Navajo people didn’t even have a word for radiation. Today they use the word Chlodonatzeeyee to describe the cancer that eats away at their bodies. The word literally translates to “No medicine or method will ever cure that disease.” In the 1980’s many cases against the mining companies were thrown out based on the companies’ argument that workers were covered by workers’ compensation, which precludes lawsuits against the employer for occupational health or illness. Ironically, many miners with illnesses were either denied claims or never filed a claim. This has allowed mining companies to avoid liability. Finally the government stepped in to grant some compensation to the miners, but I hardly think that $100,000 is enough to cover what the Navajo people went through. To top it off, some of the miners are still denied this mediocre compensation based on the fact that they were smokers. Even those that only used tobacco in ceremonial settings are still having money withheld. As for the cleanup, we have just begun. The EPA and other governmental agencies insist that the cleanup will only take a few years, but here we are five years after the 2008 plan, and the majority of mines have seen no cleanup efforts whatsoever. And what about containment? The half-life of 80,000 years means that the potential risk for radiation from uranium isotopes and their sister products will demand constant monitoring. I find it ridiculous that the government wants us to believe that they will be able to successfully contain millions of tons of uranium tailings for 160,000 years. While researching this topic, one of the things I wanted to help my group with was finding a reliable person for our phone interview. I never thought I would get the kind of run-around that I did. One of the people I contacted was Leslie Macmillan who wrote an article about the mines for the New York Times. She referred me to Eben Burnham a House Democrat. As expected, I received no response. I then contacted the EPA office in our region, and again did not hear back. I tried contacting Congressman Lujan and got nowhere. During my contact back and forth with Leslie she mistook me for someone who had a mine in my backyard and wanted her help, or as she calls it, “one of those” people. Finally she gave me the name of Andy Bessler, who gave me the name Robert Tohe, who led me to a librarian in Cincinnati. That librarian told me to contact the EPA. In conclusion, I really thought this research project was going to be rather dull. I realize now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The political scandal behind the abandoned uranium mines runs deep, and the victims are the Navajo people and the families now living near these sites. The cleanup effort has a long road ahead, and the containment effort is not even fathomable. My heart goes out to the people afflicted. I know it is no longer possible to punish the private mining companies who are ultimately responsible for what has become of the Navajo people, but I hope the government doesn’t continue to fail them as they have. I wish there was something I could do for the victims, but there really isn’t much. Congressman Lujan is working to extend the five-year plan and I think that political involvement is our only hope right now. However, there are many people out there that don’t even know this is an issue. Spreading awareness about the health implications of abandoned uranium mines is needed before people will even know to contact their local congressman and demand action.…...

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