How Major Grassroots Campaigns Are Holding the Silent Killers Of Environmental Destruction Accountable
Photo Credit: Clean Up The Mines
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The findings of the most recent IPCC report are sobering. We have 15 years to mitigate climate disaster. It is up to us to make a major transition to a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy within that timeframe. Big Energy and our plutocratic government are not going to do it without effective pressure from a people-powered movement.
Earth Day is no longer about celebration. We are making Mother Earth sick by using extreme methods to extract fuels from her mountains and from beneath her surface and by massive spills of oil, chemicals and radiation. We must mobilize ourselves to take action now to create clean renewable energy and to restore the damage we have done.
More people are getting this concept. This year, there are several major campaigns around Earth Day, for example the Global Climate Convergence and the Cowboy Indian Alliance camp in Washington, DC. We celebrated Earth Day by launching a new national campaign to clean up the thousands of abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) scattered throughout the Great Plains and West Coast.
Uranium: The Invisible Killer
In the days leading up to the launch of Clean Up the Mines campaign, our team of eleven organizers toured Southwest South Dakota to learn more about the AUMs. Our tour was led by Charmaine White Face, a scientist and coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, who took us to various sites and brought her Geiger counters. There are 272 AUMs in South Dakota that continue to emit radiation, radon and toxic elements into the air, water and land. The mines were abandoned by corporations like Kerr McGee and Atlantic Richfield who walked away from them when the Uranium Rush that started in the early 1950s was over. We described this in more detail in our previous article about how uranium mines are poisoning the breadbasket of America.
The Northern Great Plains Region of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota contain more than 3,000 AUMs. There are more than 1,000 AUMs in Arizona and New Mexico. In total, in the 15 western states there are estimated to be more than 10,000 AUMs. One in 7 people in the western US live within 50 miles of an AUM, according to the EPA. This is a national environmental crisis – a silent Fukushima – for which responsibility needs to be taken.
Researchers have found that the Madison Aquifer, which provides drinking water to 90% of South Dakota's population, has been contaminated by uranium. In addition to South Dakota, the Madison Aquifer is beneath the ground in parts of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and Nebraska. It is not only aquifers that are impacted, the water run-off from AUM’s affect the Grand River, Moreau River, Belle Fourche River, Cheyenne River and Missouri River.
Due to uranium contamination in the Colorado River, the drinking water supply for half of the population of the Western US may already be radioactive. Mining near the Colorado River, which flows through the Grand Canyon, threatens the drinking water supplies of millions of people in cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Samples from 15 springs and 5 wells in the Grand Canyon exhibited dissolved uranium concentrations greater than the EPA maximum for drinking water.
Toxic, radioactive substances from AUMs take the form of dust which travels with the wind for hundreds of miles. Uranium is a silent health threat. As it breaks down, it releases radon, an odorless gas that causes lung disease and cancer. It also emits gamma radiation and radioactive alpha and beta particles, which can cause severe damage to cells if they are released from within the body after when a person drinks contaminated water or inhales contaminated dust. The dust can blow into streams or mix with nearby soil, spreading radioactive contamination.