CR3 News Magazine 2018 February: Black History Special Edition - Page 23

This photo of a silhouetted miner shows work being done at Monument No. 2, a major uranioum mine in Monument Valley. By the early 1960s Navajo miners, many of whom had no workplace protection from radiation, had mined 6 million tons of uranium off Navajo lands. By 1981, teenage girls living in Navajo communities near uranium mines and mills had cancer in their reproductive organs at a rate of 17 times the national average. (Courtesy of Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College)

wrong,” explained a former Colorado state mine inspector in Uranium Frenzy.

HHHRadiation takes time to show its deadly effects. Radon gas decays into solid microscopic particles called daughters. Some have half-lives of a few seconds or minutes, but others become Polonium-218, Bismuth-214 or Polonium-214. As radon breaks down, a new daughter is formed, and without proper mine or mill ventilation, the tiny nuclear particles collected on suspended dust and worked their way into men’s lungs – first into soft tissue then bone.

“The Navajo uranium miners averaged cumulative exposures that were about 44 times higher than the levels at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” reveals environmental writer Judy Pasternak in her book, Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and the Betrayal of the Navajos. It happened, across the Colorado Plateau.

There was frantic prospecting for uranium mines, then the mines’ development and valuable ore trucked off to the many mills in uncovered loads rattling yellow dust every mile. No environmental protection agency existed. No careful monitoring occurred. Later, when the AEC had stockpiled enough yellowcake, the mining and milling stopped. The uranium boom ended, but not the work of the deadly radon daughters. That had just begun.

Most of the mine and mill sites have been reclaimed at the taxpayers’ cost of millions of dollars – $250 million for Grand Junction and the same amount for Monticello. Because of worldwide nuclear fears, the bottom has dropped out of the uranium market. Mining has ended. Moab, which once boasted it was the uranium capital of the world, is now flooded with tourists and Jeeps and has a thriving recreational economy.

Durango’s uranium mill became a Superfund site below Smelter Mountain and is now a dog park with the hazardous material buried elsewhere. Only Monticello is interpreting its poisoned past.

HHHI found the road signs and drove to where the 78-acre Monticello Mill had been in a creek bottom just below the highway. Like Rocky Flats near Denver, the mill site is now a reclaimed wildlife area, with newly planted pine trees, fruit trees, elms, willows, cottonwoods and pampas grass. Some of the trees have signs hung on them, like headstones, in memory of millworkers or residents who died of cancer-related deaths.

My dog and I walked the loop trail, somber and quiet after reading the mill site’s history.

Like names on The Wall of the Vietnam Memorial or the stark white granite at Pearl Harbor, which describes sailors who died on the USS Arizona, the kiosk at the Monticello Mill site erected by the Monticello Victims of Mill Tailings Committee tells a powerful story. The interpretation begins: “The Monticello Mill ... heralded at one time as an economic boom for Monticello, providing needed jobs and promising a future of energy and defense for a nation ... left quite another impact ... The government-owned mill provided a patriotic heartbeat for the community of family-oriented pioneers, offering them a united cause for their nation.”

During the Cold War, we fought against communist ideology, but it was ourselves we were killing. By 1957 at the Monticello Mill, 214 workers daily processed 600 tons of ore. Each day, the mill spewed out 2,600 pounds of heavy metals, sulfates, carbonates, lead, arsenic, asbestos, selenium, manganese, molybdenum and gases such as hydrogen chloride and vanadium pentoxide. Chrome came off car bumpers. Screen doors changed color. White sheets hung on the line turned yellow, and fumes from the plant were “inhaled in the lungs of young and old alike; mill workers, miners, ore haulers, city residents, families and children.”

One side of the kiosk has facts about the plant, which closed in 1962, but the tailings were left exposed. Children played in the tailings piles, swam in the downstream ponds, drank from the creek below the mill. Gophers aerating the tailings were shot and killed after being tracked by Geiger counters.

The other side of the kiosk bears witness in vivid descriptions from the families of victims who died of brain tumors, leukemia and lung diseases. A physician explains, “I moved to Monticello thinking I would have a typical rural small-town practice; instead, I walked into a cancer factory.”

A high school principal bemoans ever coming to Monticello. He describes the heartbreak of having his son, captain of the basketball team, die of leukemia two months before turning 17.

HHHStunned, I left the kiosk to walk the trail. To the east rose Lone Cone Mountain.

Thunderstorms came from the west. A few raindrops landed in the dust, and I thought of all the tragic stories yet untold of uranium mining across the Colorado Plateau.

Andrew Gulliford is an historian and an award-winning author and editor. Reach him at andy@agulliford.com.

yellowcake, the mining and milling stopped. The uranium boom ended, but not the work of the deadly radon daughters. That had just begun.

Most of the mine and mill sites have been reclaimed at the taxpayers’ cost of millions of dollars – $250 million for Grand Junction and the same amount for Monticello. Because of worldwide nuclear fears, the bottom has dropped out of the uranium market. Mining has ended. Moab, which once boasted it was the uranium capital of the world, is now flooded with tourists and Jeeps and has a thriving recreational economy.

Durango’s uranium mill became a Superfund site below Smelter Mountain and is now a dog park with the hazardous material buried elsewhere. Only Monticello is interpreting its poisoned past.

HHHI found the road signs and drove to where the 78-acre Monticello Mill had been in a creek bottom just below the highway. Like Rocky Flats near Denver, the mill site is now a reclaimed wildlife area, with newly planted pine trees, fruit trees, elms, willows, cottonwoods and pampas grass. Some of the trees have signs hung on them, like headstones, in memory of millworkers or residents who died of cancer-related deaths.

My dog and I walked the loop trail, somber and quiet after reading the mill site’s history.

Like names on The Wall of the Vietnam Memorial or the stark white granite at Pearl Harbor, which describes sailors who died on the USS Arizona, the kiosk at the Monticello Mill site erected by the Monticello Victims of Mill Tailings Committee tells a powerful story. The interpretation begins: “The Monticello Mill ... heralded at one time as an economic boom for Monticello, providing needed jobs and promising a future of energy and defense for a nation ... left quite another impact ... The government-owned mill provided a patriotic heartbeat for the community of family-oriented pioneers, offering them a united cause for their nation.”

During the Cold War, we fought against communist ideology, but it was ourselves we were killing. By 1957 at the Monticello Mill, 214 workers daily processed 600 tons of ore. Each day, the mill spewed out 2,600 pounds of heavy metals, sulfates, carbonates, lead, arsenic, asbestos, selenium, manganese, molybdenum and gases such as hydrogen chloride and vanadium pentoxide. Chrome came off car bumpers. Screen doors changed color. White sheets hung on the line turned yellow, and fumes from the plant were “inhaled in the lungs of young and old alike; mill workers, miners, ore haulers, city residents, families and children.”

One side of the kiosk has facts about the plant, which closed in 1962, but the tailings were left exposed. Children played in the tailings piles, swam in the downstream ponds, drank from the creek below the mill. Gophers aerating the tailings were shot and killed after being tracked by Geiger counters.

The other side of the kiosk bears witness in vivid descriptions from the families of victims who died of brain tumors, leukemia and lung diseases. A physician explains, “I moved to Monticello thinking I would have a typical rural small-town practice; instead, I walked into a cancer factory.”

A high school principal bemoans ever coming to Monticello. He describes the heartbreak of having his son, captain of the basketball team, die of leukemia two months before turning 17.

HHHStunned, I left the kiosk to walk the trail. To the east rose Lone Cone Mountain.

Thunderstorms came from the west. A few raindrops landed in the dust, and I thought of all the tragic stories yet untold of uranium mining across the Colorado Plateau.

Andrew Gulliford is an historian and an award-winning author and editor. Reach him at andy@agulliford.com.

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