[ RadSafe ] FW: [NukeNet] Uranium: It's worse than you think

Roger Helbig rhelbig at california.com
Sat May 31 17:35:47 CDT 2008

Yet another publicly made claim about the horrors of uranium, now they are
trying to claim it causes breast cancer – all it takes is the word “may” in
big headlines and apparently on the front cover.



Uranium: It’s worse than you think
"Breast cancer, it turns out, may be connected to uranium"
Editorial - May 26, 2008 by Jonathan Thompson
When people think of Durango, Colo., they usually think of the scenery, or
the tourist attractions, or the disproportionate number of healthy,
spandex-clad bicyclists, runners and raft guides. Rarely do they think of
Perhaps they should. 

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Durango. It was a nice place to
grow up. Thanks to the more than 1 million cubic yards of uranium tailings
sitting on the edge of town, it was also a slightly hazardous one. Gusts of
wind regularly lifted plumes of the fine dust into the sky over town. My
childhood home was about a mile away, and my brother and I and our friends
used to hang out at the river just below the big heap, inevitably breathing
in more than our share of toxic radioactive dust.
That tailings pile has since been cleaned up. But now, as I approach middle
age, I harbor a niggling, slightly hypochondriacal fear of the long-term
effects of my exposure to uranium. Of course, if I were to get sick now, I'd
never really know whether it was the tailings that caused it, or spending
too much time with my chain-smoking parents, or all the Jell-O salad I ate
at childhood family reunions. That's one of the frustrating things about
dealing with the legacy of the West's nuclear age: Because the health
effects can take so long to materialize, it's difficult to pin down the
cause of any particular illness. 

Take Monticello, Utah, where a uranium mill operated on the edge of town for
many years and then sat idle for many more before it was finally cleaned up.
Since the mid-1960s, when four young residents died of leukemia, various
studies have shown that Monticello and surrounding San Juan County have
higher cancer rates than the rest of the state. The latest study, released
by the state's health department this spring, found that Monticello has
experienced an unexpectedly high rate of lung cancer over the last 35 years.
Although the study stopped short of linking the cancers to the mill, it may
have lent some weight to residents' continuing efforts to get federal
funding for early detection and treatment facilities. (Currently, the feds
are supposed to compensate people who got sick from working in mines and
mills, or from living downwind of nuclear tests, but not those who lived
near uranium mines or mills.) 

Things may be even worse in Monticello than the studies have revealed,
however. Typically, these surveys focus on lung cancer and a few other
sicknesses sometimes associated with uranium mining or milling. But rarely
do they consider breast cancer. Thanks in part to research done by a Navajo
scientist - who is profiled by Florence Williams in this issue's
groundbreaking cover story - that could change. Breast cancer, it turns out,
may be connected to uranium. 

That's bad news for the people who lived in Monticello and Durango during
the pre-tailings-cleanup days, and even worse news for those still living
with the leftovers of the last nuclear age, many of whom are Navajos. They
must now add another malady to their lists of things to worry about. 

Even though the findings of the new studies are preliminary, they are
important: They warn us that we still don't know all the costs of the West's
last big nuclear push. And until we do, we may want to proceed very
cautiously with the next one. 

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