Those of us who live in Northern Colorado have good reasons to be concerned about the potential for uranium mining in our area. There are now five uranium companies active here. One concern is that uranium mining companies have a history of minimizing the problems they cause – until it’s too late and the damage is done.
One of the companies that wants to mine here doesn’t seem to be able to admit that uranium mining – which releases radioactivity into the air and water – poses unique dangers to our health. Its leaders keep talking about a Web site with “over 140” studies that show “uranium mining operations do not increase the risk of cancer mortality or cause adverse health impacts.”
Looking at the Web site is truly educational, but probably not in the way the company intends. For starters, only 39 of the 143 studies actually talk about uranium operations. The rest have titles that include “Colorado Climate,” “Hotel room suicide” and “Mortality among Catholic nuns certified as radiologic technologists.”
So 39 studies are actually about uranium. Thirty-two of these are about uranium miners, and 25 of them show increases in lung cancer (of the other seven, two are about cardiovascular disease; one shows no results; one is not a health study; one shows no increase; and the other two are not clear).
About a quarter of these studies were done in Colorado – one at Uravan, which became a ghost town and Superfund hazardous waste cleanup site after the last uranium boom.
So 25 of 26 studies say uranium miners suffer from increased lung cancer. That’s 96 percent! Hardly a ringing endorsement of uranium’s safety.
Seven studies also show higher rates of other health problems in the miners. These include tuberculosis, emphysema and other lung diseases; diseases of the circulatory system; liver cancer and cirrhosis; and laryngeal cancer. One study even shows higher death rates due to accidents, homicide and mental disorders.
I’d call all of these adverse health impacts.
Five studies listed on the Web site look at health impacts on people living near uranium sites. These are probably of more direct concern to most of us.
One of these studies showed increased lung cancer. One study didn’t include lung cancer – the most common problem associated with uranium. A third didn’t show any increase in cancer deaths, but its author thanked “the Texas Uranium industry for providing financial support.” Hmm. Another study done in the same county did find abnormal DNA and increased health risks.
The final paper was not a health study. It said more attention needs to be given to the health and environmental impacts of uranium mining and milling. Of course, four studies can’t be considered the final word on anything in science. And given the well-established fact that radiation causes health problems – primarily cancer – this author was probably on the right path.
But I’d rather not be a guinea pig for future studies. Let’s keep uranium in the ground.
Lilias Jones Jarding, Ph.D., lives in Fort Collins.