Tag Archives: Cancer

12/4/2011 AFP: India's uranium mines cast a health shadow

12/4/2011 AFP: India’s uranium mines cast a health shadow By Ammu Kannampilly: Gudiya Das whines as flies settle on her face, waiting for her mother to swat them while she lies on a cot in Ichra, one in a cluster of villages around India’s only functioning uranium mines. The 12-year-old, whose skeletal frame makes her look about half her age, was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy when she was a year old. “Back then there were 33 disabled kids here, now there are more than a hundred,” her father, Chhatua Das told AFP in his home in Jaduguda valley in the eastern state of Jharkhand. For Das and his wife Lakshmi, who have lost six children before the age of one, there is only one possible culprit — the nearby mines run by the state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL).

“I know there is some connection between the mining and what’s happened to my daughter,” Lakshmi told AFP. “It’s because of the uranium in the water here.”

Environmental groups say the mining company is polluting the groundwater by dumping radioactive waste inside three so-called tailings ponds that hold the sludge produced by the mining process — a charge vehemently denied by UCIL.

UCIL opened its first mine in Jaduguda in 1967, and has built six more since then, providing work for thousands of local villagers in what was a deeply impoverished area.

With starting salaries of 14,000 rupees ($280) a month, jobs with the mining firm are highly coveted and bring a level of economic prosperity that adds a conflicting layer of complexity to the health risk issue.

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, with more than 40% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to 2007 World Bank figures.

Ghanshyam Birulee, founder of the Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation, believes the financial benefits are meaningless when weighed against what his group says is an alarming rise in stillbirths, birth defects, and adults and children diagnosed with cancer, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

“How did these illnesses suddenly become so commonplace here? It’s because our valley has become a dumping ground for all this nuclear trash,” Birulee said.

“Jaduguda” means “magic fields” in the local language Sadri.

“These days it feels like there’s black magic at work here,” said Birulee, a former apprentice at UCIL who lost both his parents to cancer.

“When people first started getting sick, they thought it was because of witches or evil spirits. We had never seen anything like this,” he told AFP.

UCIL firmly denies any links between its operations and any health issues in Jaduguda.

“The grade of ore is very low, so the level of radioactivity is also very low. If you are 100-120 metres away from the periphery of the tailings ponds, you face no risk,” said A.K. Sarangi, deputy general manager for strategic planning at UCIL.

“We acquired land for several people here and tried to help them move, but they refused. Their intention is to extract as much money as possible from the company now,” Sarangi said.

The company cites a 1998 government-funded study that found no water contamination and rejected the idea that illnesses in Jaduguda could be ascribed to radiation exposure.

Critics say the study, carried out by the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was tainted by association with the nuclear industry, and cite a 2007 report by the non-profit Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD).

That report showed a far greater incidence of congenital abnormality, sterility, and cancer among people living within 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the mines than those living 35 kilometres away.

Mothers in villages close to the mine sites were also twice as likely to have a child with congenital deformities, it said.

The IDPD is an affiliate of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The health risks associated with exposure to uranium are well-known. According to the US department of energy, sustained exposure can result in kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer.

A few years ago, the US environmental protection agency noted high levels of radiation in homes and drinking water sources in parts of Arizona state occupied by Navajo people, many of whom worked in the mines operating there from 1944 to 1986.

Developed nations like the United States and Australia employ strict environmental standards to limit the amount of uranium released into the air by mines and processing plants.

They also require mining waste to be disposed of in a manner that limits emissions and keeps groundwater clean, by erecting fences around tailings ponds and building earthen covers to prevent any seepage into the soil.

UCIL officials insist that their mines are in complete compliance with international requirements, and that emission levels are within the accepted limits.

“We have built fences around the tailings ponds, but villagers still cut through them in parts,” to take shortcuts across the land, Sarangi said.

“It is a huge area, it is just not possible to guard it all the time.”

Asha Kaibart lives in a small house about 200 metres from a tailings pond.

Seventeen years ago her son Anil started to have trouble with his eyes. A few years later the same thing happened to his younger sister Sumitra. Doctors said both had sustained severe damage to their optic nerves.

Today, at 29, Anil is totally blind. He and Sumitra rarely leave the house anymore, according to their father Situ, a former UCIL miner.

“I am sure waste from the company mixes with the water we use to bathe,” Asha said, pointing to a small lake nearby.

Birulee says companies like UCIL simply abdicate responsibility, refusing to help families like the Kaibarts and “threatening anyone who supports us” — a charge that UCIL spokesperson Pinaki Roy rejected outright.

“Such allegations pain us. Our social responsibility is very important to us. After all, at least one member of each family here is working for us,” Roy said.

10/25/2011 Indian Country Today: Arsenic in Indian Water Tables Can Cause Diabetes, Other Illnesses

10/25/2011 Indian Country Today: Arsenic in Indian Water Tables Can Cause Diabetes, Other Illnesses By Terri Hansen: Arsenic, even for a poison, is one nasty brew. Long-term ingestion of the metallic substance can result in thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies inorganic arsenic as a Group A agent, a human carcinogen and, since the 1990s, exposure to it has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes mellitus.

New findings by a group of scientists add support for the theory that there is a link between arsenic and diabetes. Two coauthors of those studies are on an expert panel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program investigating the link between environmental chemicals and diabetes and obesity. “Our panel of experts, who met last January, concluded there is sufficient evidence to link high arsenic exposure in drinking water to diabetes,” says the study’s principal investigator, Miroslav Stýblo, a biochemist and an associate professor in the department of nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “With low levels, there is significant uncertainty. Our data also suggests that if you have a certain genetic makeup you are at higher risk.” Stýblo says typical exposure rates in the U.S. are lower than those in most studies that found an association with diabetes.

Arsenic occurs naturally in bedrock and soil, and is released through natural activities like volcanic action. Ninety percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is used as a wood preservative. Mining, smelting and agriculture also contribute to arsenic releases. To protect consumers of public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic the EPA lowered the arsenic standard for drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb in 2001.

Stýblo and eight other scientists studied populations in the Zimapán and Lagunera regions in Mexico to determine whether exposure to arsenic in drinking water is correlated with an increased prevalence of diabetes. Their research was published in the August issue of the journal Environmental Health, and is “very relevant” for the Native American population, says study coauthor Dana Loomis, Associate Director, Cancer Prevention & Control at the Eppley Cancer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha. “Most American Indians are living in the western U.S. It’s in that part of the country that elevated areas of arsenic exposures are found. It’s incorporated into the bedrock geology. Because of the way desert water systems work, the concentrations can be enhanced, especially in arid parts of the West.”

Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California in particular are worrisome areas for arsenic contamination. Another report adds Washington and Alaska to the list.

The Navajo Nation has more than 250,000 federally recognized members living on its sprawling 27,000-square-mile reservation on parts of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Water supplies that do not meet U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act standards, particularly in the rural and remote areas of the reservation are of heightened concern. “There are some high contents of arsenic known on the Navajo Nation,” says George Breit, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, and one of the world’s leading experts on arsenic contamination in groundwater. He cites a study of the area of Hopi Buttes (Tsezhin Bii) that reported several rock samples with more than 100 parts per million.

Breit says all earth materials contain some arsenic; whether it can be transferred to water depends on the reactivity of its binding phase when placed in a different environment. “There are four general environments in which arsenic is present in sufficient concentrations in groundwater to be of concern,” he says. “The Navajo Nation has environments in which all four of these mechanisms may exist.”

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is the only provider of drinking water for the reservation that meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although the utility is extending its system, unregulated water is still the only water source for one quarter of the homes on the reservation. When the Diné Environmental Institute of the Diné College and the University of Nevada, Reno tested unregulated water supplies in 2008, they found that levels of arsenic and other contaminants including uranium exceeded the EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels. For the past four summers the Diné Environmental Institute has tested water supplies in the eastern region of the Navajo Nation. “We typically test water in the livestock wells because a lot of people are still not hooked up to water supplies,” says Diné College science department faculty chair Barbara Klein. “Even though the wells might not be potable, [people] end up drinking from [them].”

The teachers and students choose an area and test livestock wells, artesian wells and springs. “We typically test for bacteria,” Klein says. “Samples are sent for testing for heavy metals. We pay most attention to arsenic and uranium.” She says they’ve found dangerously high levels of uranium in areas where there are a lot of reclaimed and unreclaimed uranium mines.

When the EPA, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NTUA and Navajo representatives formed the Navajo Access Workgroup to undertake a 2010 project to map the water infrastructure, their results indicated a funding need for a “Shiprock to Sweetwater” project that would address the problem of high arsenic levels in the source water of 1,001 homes.

Water safety is the focus of Forgotten People, a community development corporation on the Navajo Nation. Program director Marsha Monestersky says their advocacy resulted in the Navajo Nation issuing a Declaration of Public Health State of Emergency in the Black Falls/Box Springs (Arizona) region in the southern portion of the western agency of the Navajo Nation in January of 2010. “We have the EPA test results and the data that show all the water sources in [that region] exceed EPA standards for arsenic and uranium,” she says. Their organization received an Environmental Excellence award from the Navajo Nation EPA in 2009, and a $20,000 environmental justice grant from the U.S. EPA that same year. “Our job is really hard because a lot of people we’re working with have cancer, and there’s a lot of diabetes,” Monestersky says. “Every time they build a dialysis center it can’t accommodate all the patients [because] the need is so great.”

Arsenic is a concern elsewhere. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona objected to the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Program two years ago in part because the subsequent new mining would expose the tribal community to “abundant deposits of…poisonous arsenic.”

Arsenic got top billing on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s (TON) list of environmental health threats in their Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Plan: 2010-2015 sponsored by the CDC. “All Americans,” said TON’s Environment and Cancer Committee in the report, “including the O’odham are entitled to clean water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Whether arsenic is linked to illness or cancer is not as critical as the fact that low-level chronic exposure to the human body is not a healthy thing.”

At the time of the report arsenic concentrations in their water ranged from trace amounts to 1,000 ppb. At least 23 of their communities have water with elevated levels of arsenic, and 17 of their 35 public water systems have arsenic levels from 10 ppb up to 32 ppb, above the EPA standard for arsenic but considered low compared to other areas in Arizona. Their report also cites an earlier study linking arsenic exposure through drinking water with a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

TON’s pilot arsenic treatment using iron-oxide adsorption reduced arsenic at a public water system from 33 ppb to less than 1 ppb. TON’s report recommends the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the CDC use their public health authority to ensure funding. They claim that since their report was issued they’ve resolved much of the problem.

In Alaska, some of their high arsenic levels occur naturally, and some are produced by military and mining operations, says Pamela Miller, executive director for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “At Kivalina’s Red Dog Mine, there is concern that emissions from the mining operations are transmitted atmospherically,” Miller says. “Fish have elevated levels of arsenic in their muscle and liver. A study found that levels found in fish were higher in Alaska than in California. We’re concerned about the levels of arsenic in groundwater, but we also recognize arsenic can be transported in the air, and deposited in waters and taken in by sea creatures important to tribal subsistence.”

Regardless of the arsenic link to diabetes, Stýblo says that the number-one reason for the diabetes epidemic is U.S. is obesity. “I think it’s fair to say exposures in the U.S. are lower than most studies found to be associated with diabetes. If arsenic contributes, it’s relatively minor. It is possible that arsenic may work with obesogens, but obesity remains the number-one explanation.” Obesogens are environmental contaminants that promote obesity. Diabetogens promote diabetes. Arsenic does not seem to promote obesity, but acts as a direct diabetogen, Stýblo says. Other organic and inorganic compounds are also thought to cause diabetes. “Most of them seem to promote obesity first; diabetes is a secondary effect, i.e. resulting from obesity.”

Although the arsenic levels are low for many people in the U.S., Stýblo says it is still a significant issue, “because we have tens of millions people worldwide who are exposed to high arsenic levels, so it’s still affecting a very large number of people. Arsenic is known as a carcinogen; it’s only recently that people like us became interested in its toxicology.”

Loomis agrees, “Even a minor cause is important when large numbers of people are exposed to it.”

10/27/2011 Gallup Independent: The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer

10/27/2011 The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent:  WINDOW ROCK – The Obama administration took a critical step Wednesday toward protecting more than a million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park from mineral exploration and new uranium mining for the next 20 years.   The Bureau of Land Management released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal which identifies the preferred alternative of withdrawing about 1 million acres from new mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to formally finalize Wednesday’s decision in 30 days.

“Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said.

“The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area,” he said.

The Final EIS estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.

“It’s been a long struggle for us to preserve our homelands,” Carletta Tilousi said Wednesday evening. Tilousi, a member of the Havasupai Tribal Council, lives in Supai Village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She also works with a group of Havasupai elders who have taken the lead to protect the Grand Canyon and sacred places.

“I’ve watched my elders travel in and out of the canyon to come to these public meetings and voice their opinions,” she said.  “In my community it’s really been the traditional elders and the traditional practitioners that have really taken the lead to stand up in front of the federal officials and learn about the EIS and the BLM process and the Forest Service process.

“I’m very, very surprised, and at the same time I’m very happy that the government is finally listening to my people after many years. It’s really the elders’ victory. With the support of the Council they have been able to succeed in preserving it.”

Tilousi said cancer rates have risen in their small community, something she attributes to the federal government’s above-ground atomic testing at Nevada Test Site.

“We were downwinders of that and I have noticed that a lot of my people are coming face to face and battling cancer. It’s just another struggle from uranium mining and the nuclear industry that’s taken many lives from my community and the neighboring tribes. If the U.S. government really wants to preserve human life, I think this is the right thing to do – a million acres be put aside for preservation. No one wants to lose life over profit,” she said.

The Arizona 1 mine is 15 miles northwest of the village. Another mine is located 25 miles away as the crow flies, right above their watershed, Havasu Creek, she said. “That’s the river that we sustain ourselves with down in Supai Canyon.” Tribal members are conducting ongoing water testing to monitor for heavy metals.

“We’ve learned so much from the Navajo people and their challenges, that we really stood up against this. Since 1984 this has been an issue that my tribe’s been fighting,” she said. “It’s just been a lifelong struggle for me. When uranium was first brought up, I was probably 13 years old. Now I’m 41. When I watch my elders, all the challenges and fights that they’ve been through, it’s inevitable that I’m going to be old and still continuing this work.”

The Navajo Nation submitted comments in May through Navajo Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Stephen B. Etsitty and David Taylor from the Department of Justice, in support of the preferred alternative.

The Nation also said that if the Interior intends to allow for limited uranium mining and milling where valid existing rights are found, then it must be willing to provide adequate resources and technical support to the Navajo Nation for improved emergency planning and response capabilities to address any potential releases of hazardous and radioactive substances along transport routes, especially any that traverse the Navajo Nation.

In addition, Navajo requested enhanced government-to-government consultation on any subsequent federal decisions that could impact Navajo Nation resources, as well as enhanced federal policy implementation supporting the role of the Navajo Nation in any subsequent decisions the state of Arizona may make regarding uranium mining and processing.

Tilousi said one of her main concerns with the operating mine approximately 15 miles away on the North Rim is radioactive particles being carried on the prevailing wind at 30 to 40 miles per hour.

“It’s coming our direction and it’s coming through the air. People can’t see it or smell it or touch it, but I know, I sense that it’s coming through. That’s the scariest part. You don’t know how it’s affecting you until way later. And then it’s too late.”

Conservation groups commended Salazar and the Obama administration for the decision to protect public lands.

“The Grand Canyon is an international icon, a biodiversity hot spot and a huge economic engine for the Southwest,” Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Protecting it from uranium mining pollution is the right thing to do.”

Information: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html

10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit

MARK PERNICE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEMODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery - and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima – Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit By Peter S. Canellos: MODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery – and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

So I assumed when, early this year, the Foreign Press Center of Japan conveyed an invitation from a group of high-school students to visit the city as a journalist and learn, firsthand, about their desire to have President Obama visit.

Apparently, both the US government and the Japanese government jumped to the same concluson – that the people of Hiroshima wanted an American president to see what an American atomic bomb had wrought. In a 2009 State Department cable recently released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Japanese officials believed “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’ While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such a program in the November visit.’’

Obama did not go to Hiroshima that November. But Roos, the Japanese government, and perhaps even the White House seem to have misunderstood the nature of this invitation, as I did.

In Hiroshima, both elderly survivors and schoolchildren made the same points: No apology is requested. A meeting with survivors of the bombing would be useful, but not to bridge any gap between the American government and the people of Hiroshima. The city is impressively in touch with its complex history, and doesn’t primarily blame the United States for its fate. Japanese militarism, and Japanese wartime atrocities, are on full display at the city’s Peace Museum and are discussed in the mandatory “peace curriculum’’ at schools. The real focus in today’s Hiroshima is on nuclear proliferation.

Young and old, the people of the city where more than 100,000 died in an atomic attack share a special sense of mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

That happens to be Obama’s goal, too – one he coupled with a promise that the United States would lead the way. That’s what got the people of Hiroshima excited. Obama made his vow in 2009, but hasn’t made much progress since.

In fact, the problem of nuclear proliferation is on the verge of getting much worse. If Iran and North Korea join the list of nuclear nations without serious consequences, the entire non-proliferation regime that has checked the world’s nuclear ambitions for four decades will fall apart. Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and many other non-nuclear nations – among them Japan – will start exploring nuclear options of their own. The genie will truly be out of the bottle.

Unfortunately, the international peace movement that has its moral and spiritual roots in Hiroshima maintains its Cold War fixation on the United States and Russia, the countries with the largest arsenals. If Obama were to go to Hiroshima, he’d hear a lot of idealistic, and perhaps simplistic, pleas to just stop the nuclear insanity. But he could, and should, turn the conversation around: The United States and Russia, at the very least, share a commitment to arms control; the danger of nuclear weapons spreading among rogue states and terrorist groups is a far greater threat to world safety. It’s something the international peace movement needs to focus on, just as Obama needs to engage the rest of the world in a moral quest to stop North Korea and Iran.

A visit to Hiroshima by Obama would, of course, prompt some blowback at home. Though many presidents, starting with Harry Truman himself, have expressed misgivings about the American role in introducing nuclear weaponry, most Americans, including hundreds of thousands of World War II veterans, still support Truman’s decision to order the atomic bombing of Japan. Obama probably couldn’t say anything to prevent at least some Americans from suggesting a visit would be tantamount to an expression of regret. But most people would understand that no apology was being offered, and no regrets expressed. There would be plenty of occasions for Obama to make his views perfectly clear.

Meanwhile, the inherent drama of a sitting president going to Hiroshima would make the visit a worldwide event, providing the kind of stage for an Obama foreign policy speech that he’s lacked since his Nobel Prize address in the first year of his presidency. And a forceful speech aimed at rallying the world against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea – and reminding people in every country of how threats have evolved since the Cold War – could have lasting impact.

There’s another reason he should go: A lot of the world wants and expects that kind of vivid, symbolic leadership from him, and he’s made far too few dramatic gestures in foreign policy. If it’s surprising to Americans how prosaic the Obama administration has been, it’s been even more baffling to the world. The billions of people overseas who chafed at the America-first swagger of George W. Bush pinned their hopes on Obama. Many are still waiting for his call to action.

And a visit to Hiroshima inevitably concentrates the mind — all minds — on the dangers of nuclear war. The stories of melting faces, of square miles of cityscape erased in moments, of the “black rain’’ that brought radiation poisoning and cancer to those even outside the city center, of the cases of leukemia decades later, the young women deemed unmarriageable because of radiation exposure — all are there, waiting for the world to hear.

This is the issue Obama wanted to make central to his presidency, the one that transcends all the crackdowns and liberation movements and peace negotiations of a fractious world. If Obama wants to send a strong message about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, he should go to Hiroshima.

9/29/2011 EPA announces plan to clean up largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation

9/29/2011 EPA announces plan to clean up largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation: SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it has approved a plan and committed to clean up the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the largest and highest priority uranium mine on the Navajo Nation. The cleanup will include removal of approximately 1.4 million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil and will employ the most stringent standards in the country. The cleanup will place the contaminated soil in a lined, capped facility. The multi-year cleanup will be conducted in several phases.

“This is an important milestone in the effort to address the toxic legacy of historic uranium mining on the Navajo Nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region. “This plan is the result of several years of collaboration between EPA, the Navajo Nation, and the Red Water Pond Road community living near the mine.”

“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, I appreciate the efforts of the USEPA and Navajo EPA, and the cooperation from the state of New Mexico to clean up contaminated Navajo trust lands,” said Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nation. “A perfect remedy is difficult to design, and in this case every stakeholder can be proud of their input into the remedy. I look forward to the cleanup and putting people to work restoring our lands.”

The disposal cell will be designed with participation from the Navajo Nation, State of New Mexico, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Energy. EPA will fund an independent technical advisor to aid the community in their understanding of the project as it develops and facilitate local input into the design process. The cleanup will allow unrestricted surface use of the mine site for grazing and housing.

“Consolidating the waste into one repository will return the land to the Navajo Nation for their traditional use,” said David Martin, New Mexico Environment Secretary. “The cleanup will also ensure long term stewardship to protect public health and the environment.”

Northeast Church Rock mine operated as a uranium ore mine from approximately 1967 to 1982, and included an 1800-foot deep shaft, waste piles, and several surface ponds. Under EPA oversight and in conjunction with the Navajo Nation EPA, General Electric conducted two previous cleanups at the site to deal with residual contamination, including the removal and rebuilding of one building in 2007, and removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010.

Exposure to elevated levels of radium over a long period of time can result in anemia, cataracts, and cancer, especially bone cancer.

EPA’s work with Navajo Nation to identify and enforce against responsible parties is part of a 5-year plan to address the problem, which can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/

Contact: Margot Perez-Sullivan, (415) 328-1676, perezsullivan.margot@epa.gov

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9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes

9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes: Six months after radiation leaks from the nuclear plant led to their evacuation, residents of nearby towns briefly return by Justin McCurry in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture: Takashige Kowata thought he was prepared for the worst when he opened the door to his house for the first time in six months. But the trauma of seeing his family home abandoned amid the panic of a nuclear meltdown was compounded when he noticed a broken bathroom window.

“It looks like we have been burgled,” the 63-year-old says, still too shaken to establish what is missing. “I can’t believe that someone is capable of stealing from the victims of a disaster.”

The intruders would have committed their crime with ease: Kowata’s spacious house and garden lie about a mile from the scene of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which has turned large swaths of nearby land into an official no-go zone.

He was one of 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20km) radius of the nuclear plant who were told to evacuate by the government in the hours after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake launched a tsunami that crashed through its protective seawall and triggered meltdown in three of its six reactors.

Kowata and more than 200 of his neighbours have been allowed to make a brief visit home to collect as many belongings as they can carry. It is a homecoming that many accept is likely to be their last.

Dressed in protective suits, masks and goggles, they have been given just two hours to survey the damage to the houses they have been barred from entering since the triple disaster struck north-east Japan on the afternoon of 11 March.

Months of radiation leaks from Fukushima Daiichi have rendered Okuma and the nearby town of Futaba uninhabitable for years, perhaps decades.

According to a recent government report, the annual cumulative radiation dose in one district of Okuma is estimated at 508.1 millisieverts, more than 500 times the acceptable yearly level and, experts believe, high enough to increase the risk of cancer.

“We’ve been told that we can’t return home because of the radiation,” says Kinuko Yamada, a 53-year-old woman who is making the trip with her husband. “I hope we can go back, but it could be 20 to 30 years before that happens. I’ll probably be dead by then.”

Radiation levels in the town are so high that decontamination could take years, or not succeed at all. Residents have so far been allowed just this one brief visit, organised by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and nuclear safety officials. The Guardian was the only foreign media permitted to accompany them.

Evidence of the area’s dismal place in the history of Japan’s nuclear power industry becomes visible soon after the convoy of buses passes through the police checkpoint.

All traces of ordinary life have been cast in eerie suspension: roadsides are overgrown with grass and weeds; shops and restaurants lie empty, and grand farmhouses – evacuated in the hours following the accident, when Tepco officials were considering abandoning the plant – stand quiet and deserted. Toppled walls and scattered roof tiles are reminders of the staggering force of the quake that caused the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The only sound is the chirping of late-summer cicadas and the occasional beep of a Geiger counter. A scrawny black dog wanders into the road, sizes up his human visitors and scampers back into the woods.

And just visible above a line of trees is the roof of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor buildings. As our bus drives past, radiation levels inside surge to 61 microsieverts an hour (compared to the typical Japanese average of 0.34 microsieverts).Elsewhere inside the exclusion zone, at least 1,000 cattle are roaming wild after escaping from their farm homesteads, according to local authorities. Most pets, and tens of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens have starved to death.

A few days after residents returned to their homes, police officers and firefighters resumed the search for almost 200 tsunami victims in the area still listed as missing.

Some residents are reluctant to openly criticise Tepco, a major local employer. “I never worried about the nuclear plant before the tsunami,” says one of Kowata’s neighbours, a woman in her 60s who declines to give her name.

“When we left on 11 March we thought we would be back in a week or 10 days. Then the reactor buildings started exploding and we were more cautious, but even so I never thought it would be as bad as this. The power plant put food on the table around here … I can’t find the words to describe how I feel.

“I’m going to take back some valuables and our ancestors’ spirit tablets – my parents are both dead. The earthquake left our family Buddhist altar in pieces, so I brought some flowers to place in front of it.”

Her garden, usually a blaze of colour at this time of year, is a tangle of weeds and wild grass. “I spotted a few flowers blooming among the grass,” she says. “I love flowers and told them I was sorry for not being able to look after them properly.”

Inside, the doors have come away from their hinges and the walls have been pushed up by the force of the quake. “It’s terrible,” she says. “The kind of shock from which you can never recover. I want to come back, but it might be better for my peace of mind to stop hoping.”

However, Kowata, a former local government official who witnessed the arrival of MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel at Fukushima Daiichi last year, makes no attempt to hide his bitterness towards Tepco.

He has lived in this neighbourhood all his life and had only just built a new house, which he shared with four other members of his family. His father, like many other elderly tsunami survivors, died soon after being evacuated.

“I don’t know how much Tepco and the government will give us as compensation, and in any case it will take a long time to arrive,” says Kowata, who is living in rented accommodation in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a town farther inland.

“We can’t wait around for them to take action. The nuclear accident is a man-made disaster.

“The government and Tepco kept telling us that this kind of thing could not possibly happen. Tepco hasn’t changed when it comes to covering up trouble.”

Just two hours after they arrived, Okuma’s residents must board buses to take them back outside the exclusion zone to be screened for radiation.

They emerge from their homes gripping plastic bags bulging with clothes, valuables, heirlooms, children’s toys and photo albums.

Kowata gathers his belongings, walks out of his front door and turns the key one last time. “As far as I am concerned, this is the last time I will see my home,” he says. “The house itself isn’t very old … it’s a great shame.”

Halfway down the driveway he turns and fixes his gaze on the home he is leaving behind.

“I wanted to say thank you one last time. Now it’s time to move on.”

5/31/2011 NRDC Would You Like Cancer-causing or Brain-poisoning Pollution With That Electricity?

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Staff Blog by Pete Altman: Hundreds of people have said no to toxic pollution from power plants near them by attending U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearings. The last one is today in Atlanta — if you can’t make it, support the EPA’s proposals to make power companies cut the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gases & other nasty stuff they release into the air by TAKING ACTION: http://b/ Next time you flip on the light switch, how would you respond if a little voice asked you “Thanks for your order. Would you like cancer with your electricity? How about some brain-poison?” Weird question, right? Unfortunately, power companies are one of the biggest toxic polluters in the US, dumping millions of pounds of cancer-causing, brain-poisoning toxins like arsenic and mercury into the air each year. The toxins are found in the coal that is burned to supply about ½ of our nation’s electricity.

This week, hundreds of people have shown up to hearings in Philadelphia and Chicago organized by the US Environmental Protection Agency to say “no thanks” to toxic pollution from power plants, and support the EPA’s proposals to make power companies reduce the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gases and other nasty stuff they release into the air.

(To let the EPA know you support reducing toxic pollution from power plants, take action here.)

As the Associated Press explained,

Several hundred people, from environmentalists and physicians to mothers and fishermen, testified before a panel of federal environmental officials on Tuesday to urge the passage of proposed new standards to limit the amount of air pollution that coal-fired power plants can release into the atmosphere.”

One those physicians was Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the poison control center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who said

Young children are uniquely vulnerable to the toxic effects of environmental poisons such as mercury and arsenic. These compounds are especially dangerous to the developing brain and nervous system.

Some of the speakers pulled no punches. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported,

Rabbi Daniel Swartz leaned toward the microphone at Tuesday’s hearing on proposed federal rules to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

By allowing emissions to continue, “we have, in effect, subsidized the poisoning of fetuses and children,” the Scranton rabbi said.

In Chicago, a similar scene unfolded, as the Chicago Tribune reported, with supporters of limiting toxic air pollution coming out in force, as noted by Chicago radio station WBEZ:

Midwesterners who testified at a public hearing in Chicago Tuesday afternoon were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed EPA plan.”

One of those speaking in Chicago was NRDC’s Shannon Fisk, who focused on the critical need for EPA to act swiftly to reduce toxic pollution, saying,

[Some] in industry are pushing EPA to delay …my question to these agents of delay is how much is enough. How many lives are they willing to sacrifice in order to have even more time to install pollution controls that have been available for decades?”

Polling shows that throughout the nation, Americans strongly support reducing toxic air pollution from industrials sources. A February 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling revealed that 66% of Americans support “requiring stricter limits on the amount of toxic chemicals such as mercury lead and arsenic that coal power plants and other industrial facilities release.”

The EPA’s final hearing on the toxics rules is in Atlanta today. But going to a hearing isn’t the only way for concerned citizens to weigh in.

If you’d like to say “no thanks” to cancer-causing and brain-poisoning toxins from power plants, send a comment directly to the EPA in support of the toxics proposals by using our quick and easy action page.