Uranium & Arsenic in the Water: In-Situ Leach Mining Contamination on Indian Lands

June 16, 2009 by admin1  
Filed under Water Contamination

Crying Earth Rise Up!


The following article appeared originally on the Bring Back the Way site:


“Some day the Earth will weep, She will beg for Her life, She will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die, and when She dies, you too, will die.”
–John Hollow Horn, Oglala Lakota, 1932

Authors Note: This report is based on the Lakota worldview that Water Is Sacred. Without Water There Is No Life.

For many generations, our Lakota people lived on the plains and followed the stars for ceremony. Our ancient Creation story teaches us that Tunkasila made all of Creation, woman and man and taught us to be a good relative to all of Creation. Mni, Water is a Sacred Gift of Creation. Mni is the Adornment of Mother Earth, Mni is the companion of Woope, the daughter of Tunkasila. Woope is the Law. Mni is our first home, when we arrive here on Mother Earth, the water of our mothers’ womb is our first dwelling. Water is our first medicine. Without water, there is no life. The Spirit of Mni is also in the Star Nation. In the form of steam, the Spirit of Mni enters the Human Body to nourish the Spirit. Mni is part of every daily and ceremonial aspect of Lakol Wicohan, our Lakota lifeway.

After the coming of the white man, and many years of war making, our ancestors – known historically as the Great Sioux Nation-entered into the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty with the United States.

In the Treaty, our ancestors retained a land base for the Lakota Nation that includes parts of what is currently known as North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and Canada.

Our Treaty Territory contains our Sacred Land and Ceremonial Sites, and billions of dollars worth of Minerals, Plants, and Water.

Our ancestors and the United States government officials smoked our Sacred Pipe together and the U.S. Congress ratified the Treaty, so our people believe that the Treaty is true and binding, as long as the water flows and sweet grass grows.

Through America’s aggressive Treaty violations and the decimation of the Buffalo Nation, the Oglala Lakota were forced onto the reservation. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in southwestern South Dakota.

“Pine Ridge Indian Agency” (The official Bureau of Indian Affairs terminology)

The U. S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Census reports that there are now 48,000 Oglala Lakota people, with 25,000 tribal members currently residing on the Pine Ridge. 65% of our population is age 25 and under.

The Pine Ridge Reservation was originally known as Prisoner Of War Camp #344.

Drinking Water Quality Tests on Pine Ridge

On the Pine Ridge, Drinking Water Quality tests conducted from 1995 to the present by the United States Geological Survey, the Indian Health Service, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Rural Water Program and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDDR) reveal contaminants in the groundwater.
There are two serious threats to our drinking water, Arsenic, and Alpha Emitters (radiation emitting).

Uranium Mining and Water Contamination

The Tests Reveal the Contaminants:
- Arsenic
- Combined Radium 226 & 228
- Barium
- Thorium 230 (not naturally occurring)
- other Radioactive Alpha Emitters

Maximum Contaminant Level, the MCL, measures contaminants and tell us the “safe” levels of contaminants.
Since the US Clean Water Act of 1972 drinking water quality is measured for contaminants.
The MCL of Arsenic is 10 as of January 2006. An MCL above 10 is not in the “safe” level under US law.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s MCL “goal” for Arsenic level is a measurement of zero, because the EPA cannot determine a true safe threshold level for Arsenic.
Once Arsenic is released into the environment, it cannot be contained. It only changes form.

According to the Indian Health Service Arsenic Tech Team the water quality test results in 2005 on Pine Ridge reveal that 98 wells have Arsenic levels 2 to 12 times higher than the MCL determined by law.

The wells of these families have been capped and their drinking water source has been changed to that of the water piped in from the Missouri River. (Call the Indian Health Service Arsenic Tech Team at 685-6561 to ask for copies of the Arsenic Reports)

In past decades, Open Pit Uranium Mining occurred Northwest of the Pine Ridge in the area of Edgemont, SD on the outskirts of our sacred Black Hills.

The milling of the Uranium took place by the Cheyenne River, which flows to the Pine Ridge. The radioactive waste from that Uranium Mine has since been buried underground for storage.

The area around Edgemont and the Northwest area of the Pine Ridge is over the Inyan Kara Aquifer and the White River Group. The Arikaree Aquifer flows under the center of the Pine Ridge.

The USGS and OST Rural Water tests document that wells and springs from these Aquifers reveal that contaminants of Arsenic, Radium 226 & 228, and Gross Alpha Emitters are higher than the safe and legal Maximum Contaminant level.

Some Alpha Emitters and Arsenic are naturally occurring due to Uranium in the ground, others as a result of mining.

(Call the OST Rural Water Office in Pine Ridge at 867-1999 & ask for copies of their Annual Reports. The complete test results are in their reports)

These wells that exceed the MCL for Arsenic and Alpha Emitters have been closed and the drinking water is now piped in or trucked in to the community.

A summary of the OST Rural Water Reports and Indian Health Service shows that the Alpha Emitters from the following areas exceed the legal MCLs (highend range of composite tests) is on “Test Results” page.

Nuclear Waste Contamination?

Have the nuclear waste tailings from the Uranium mines around the Edgemont area that washed into the Cheyenne River also get into the groundwater, thus traveling for many years underground to get here, under the Pine Ridge, into the Aquifer we drink from? Did the above ground tailings blow in the wind to our lands here on Pine Ridge? There has never been a definitive study across the reservation to determine possible sources of contamination.

Mni Wiconi Pipeline

The Mni Wiconi water line has only been here for a few years, prior to Mni Wiconi disconnecting our wells and connecting our homes to the pipeline, we drank groundwater for years, some homes that are land-based still drink from the groundwater, as they are not connected to the pipeline. According to the Annual Reports of Rural water, the drinking water they provide is groundwater pumped from 34 wells.

Practically the first sentence of the Congressional Bill which created with Mni Wiconi Program states that “the drinking water quality available to the Pine Ridge does not meet the minimum health and safety standards, thereby posing a threat to public health and safety”.

(Mni Wiconi Act PL 100-516 (H.R. 2772) October 24, 1988 and amended PL 103-434 (S1146) October 31, 1994.

According to the 2003 Health Consultation Report of the Sharps Corner/Porcupine area conducted by the US Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry the private well samples studied in 1999 and 2000 for Radionuclides, the highest MCL detected was 75.9ugL, which is two and half times higher than the legal MCL of 30ugL. The sampling led the ATSDR to conclude that “ Radionuclides were the drinking water contaminant of concern for the Sharps Corner/Porcupine area”.

Of the eight water wells sampled, 50%, or half, of homes MCL for Radionuclides exceeded the EPA’s legal Maximum Contaminant Level for Gross Alpha Particle activity. In the Radon part of the study, the air was measured in these homes. One-third or 30% of the homes were found to have results of Radon above the legal MCL.

The results summarized that the folks in these homes were ingesting radioactivity through the drinking water, as well as being contaminated by Radon through inhalation, breathing it in as it is in their homes. In every one of these homes, at least one family member died from Cancer. The ingestion and inhalation of Radionuclides also has a quicker effect on the kidney–many individuals will suffer kidney damage and die from the effects BEFORE they get cancer.

The USGS recommends further testing of our ground water to determine a better defined source of radioactive contaminants. The tests would separate the source of the contaminants of the naturally occurring Uranium in our groundwater from Gross Alpha Emitters that may have been pulled out of the ground through mining activities, entering the Aquifers. (Call the USGS Office in Rapid City and ask where to purchase copies of the reports)

In a letter addressed to OST President Steele in 2003, Lorelie DeCora responded to his question posed regarding the definition of a contaminant known as “Th-230” that he stated had been detected in groundwater quality tests conducted on the Pine Ridge. The Women of All Red Nations (WARN) Report issued a report in 1980 documenting water quality test results. Thorium 230 is a contaminant that results from Uranium tailings from mining. Thorium can be naturally occurring, but Thorium 230 is not naturally occurring. Thorium 230 will stay radioactive for 154,000 years. After 77,000 years, it becomes half of the value of its’ prior radioactivity. (Thorium 230=Th-230)

In Situ Leach Mining: “ISL”

Substances such as Inorganic Arsenic, Radium 226 & 228, Thorium 230 and other contaminants can enter groundwater as a result of mining. One type of mining that uses water is known as “In Situ Leach Mining”. ISL mining pulls Uranium up from the ground using Aquifer water, extracts the Uranium, stores the water in “monitoring” wells, and eventually injects it back into the Aquifer.
The ISL process also blends the contaminated water with clean Aquifer water to store it in the “monitoring” wells where the Radioactivity is measured after the Uranium is leached out to produce “Yellow Cake”. The water used to pull the Uranium out of the ground is also stored in “evaporation ponds”.
Radioactive Uranium and Barium Sludge Ponds and “monitoring wells” result from the In Situ Leach mining process. It takes almost 5,000 years for this sludge to lose half of its radioactivity, some estimates tell us, other estimate it at a much longer time period.
The ISL process presents the potential for leaks in the pipes that are used to “extract” the Uranium out of the ground. Such leaks would allow the radioactive water to seep out of the pipe and back into the groundwater, this has happened at ISL mines all over the world.

ISL Uranium Mine at Crawford, Nebraska

“In Situ Leach Mining” is presently happening in Crawford, Nebraska at the Crow Butte Resources, Inc. Uranium Mine, which is owned by Cameco, Inc., the multinational energy corporation headquartered in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Cameco, Inc. is the worlds’ largest Uranium producer. This Crow Butte Uranium Mine has spilled or leaked thousands of gallons of contaminated water into our land, air, and ground water.
The High Plains Aquifer that is under the Crow Butte Resources (CBR) Uranium Mine also flows under the Eastern portion of the Pine Ridge Reservation. The High Plains Aquifer contains portions of the Arikaree Aquifer.

The Crow Butte Uranium Mine is authorized to use 5,000 to 9,000 gallons of Aquifer water per minute with the “In Situ Leach” method.
The CBR has at least three “evaporation ponds” where they store the contaminated water. The ponds are as big as a football field, lined with plastic and vinyl. And filled with radioactive sludge.

The “monitoring wells” where CBR stores contaminated water after the Uranium has been leached out are actually underground cement containers which hold the water for a period of time before it is placed in the “evaporation pond”.

The CBR Uranium Mine produces one million pounds of “Yellow Cake” per year at its processing plant onsite. This “Yellow Cake” is stored in 55-gallon steel drums until transported. “Yellow Cake” is used to power Nuclear Power Plants and to make Nuclear Bombs through production of the world’s most powerful and most dangerous element: Plutonium.

Crow Butte Resources well soon seek renewal of their existing license and is proposing to expand their Uranium Mine north of Crawford, Nebraska, to an area near Whitney Lake and Dam, and the White River. The names of these two satellite ISL mines are the North Trend Area and the Three Crow area. The existing mine currently has 4,000-8,000 wells at Crow Butte.

There is more information regarding the proposed North Trend Satellite Mine, which Owe Aku and others have filed, in November 2007, an intervention asking for a hearing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ISL Uranium Mining is also planned to occur in the Black Hills area near Edgemont, SD by the Powertech Uranium Company which is now drilling exploratory wells for their proposed In Situ Leach Uranium Mine, and at the Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs, SD by the Newtron Energy Corporation.

Impacts of Mining on Humans and the Environment

The scientific community has conclusively determined that Inorganic Arsenic and Alpha Emitters are cancer causing to humans. Arsenic and Alpha Emitters are pulled out of the ground during the mining process, entering the groundwater, people drink the groundwater and become contaminated.

There can be a 5, 10, or 20-year latency period of exposure to Arsenic and Alpha Emitters before cancer develops.
CBR proposes 20 more years of Uranium Mining near Crawford, Nebraska. The Cameco, Inc. website states they have “a proven reserve of 60 million pounds of Uranium to extract”.

How much water is that at 9,000 gallons per minute? 24 hours per day, 365 days per year for 20 more years… What will the number of gallons increase to once the two new Uranium Mines are developed and running?

There are about 321 people diagnosed with Diabetes each year on Pine Ridge. Currently, of our 25,000 residents, 10% of our Tribal Members have Diabetes.

What will that number be after 20 more years of mining which has the potential of contamination of our groundwater?

Our people who are Diabetic patients seem to move to the Dialysis stage of the disease quickly, can this be a result of kidney damage sustained over many, many years of contamination of ingesting even low doses of Arsenic and Alpha Emitters?

The homes across the Pine Ridge whose test results revealed an illegal MCL of Arsenic now have filters provided by the Indian Health Service to filter Arsenic out of the water as it comes out of our kitchen faucet to purify the water we drink and cook with, but the water we bath our children in, wash our clothes with, water our lawns with, and shower with is not filtered. The Arsenic is still pouring into our homes.

According to the Indian Health Service official at the Aug 15, 2007 Environmental Health Tech Team meeting, “this shouldn’t be a concern because you have to drink it to be effected by it”. I wonder what scientists from other parts of the world say about that? Western Science is not the only science who studies such matters, a German scientist states he has proof that a low dose over time can have a more dramatic result than previously understood.

With the Crow Butte Resources’ existing mine and two new proposed mines 38 miles to the southeast of Pine Ridge, and the proposed Powertech Uranium Mine 60 miles to the Northwest of Pine Ridge, In Situ Leach Mining for Uranium has the potential to contaminate all of the groundwater our people depend on for drinking water.

The Crow Butte Resources Uranium Mine has had leaks and spills every year since they have been in operation:

License Violations at Crow Butte ISL uranium mine (Nebraska) (www.wise-uranium.org)

* Sept 26, 2006: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* May 5, 2006: leak detected at Pond 4
* Jan 19, 2006: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Oct 27, 2005: Injection well leak detected
* Aug 4, 2005: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* June 28, 2005: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* June 17, 2005: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* May 2, 2005: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* May 14, 2004: leak detected at Pond 1
* Dec 23, 2003: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Dec 26, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Sept 10, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* April 4, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Dec 4, 2001: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* March 2, 2001: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Sept 10, 2000: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* May 26, 2000: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* April 27, 2000: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* March 6, 2000: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* July 2, 1999: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Aug 7, 1998: Spill of 10,260 gallons of injection fluid
* March 21, 1998: Monitor well placed on excursion status
* Aug 12, 1997: Discovery of Pinhole Leaks in Upper Liner of Process Water Evaporation Pond

When an ISL well is placed in “excursion status” it is because some part of the pipes or containers or other parts of the apparatus is LEAKING/SPILLING the water/solution/Uranium mix back into the groundwater (Aquifer).

“The most critical part of the ISL process is to control the movement of the chemical solutions within the aquifer. Any escape of these solutions outside the ore zone is considered an excursion, and can lead to contamination of surrounding ground-water systems. Some of the most common causes of excursions, identified by international operations in the United States and across Europe, can be through old exploration holes that were not plugged adequately, plugging or blocking of the aquifer causing excess water pressure buildup and breaks in bores, and failures of injection/extraction pumps.” (“An Environmental Critique of In Situ Leach Mining : The Case Against Uranium Solution Mining” at www.sea-us.org.au)

Uranium Corporations say that ISL mining is environmentally friendly and safe, but according to researchers in the scientific community, “The ISL technique can lead to permanent contamination of groundwater and can contaminate land which was otherwise good productive land.”

According to news reports in Nebraska, Crow Butte Resources, Inc. experienced such a massive spill of more than 300,000 gallons of contaminated water that the area has been designated as “unfit for future use”—it is now considered a sacrifice area. (Instate News) as they were unable to clean it all up.

How will 20 more years of injecting contaminated water into all of the Aquifers that our people drink from effect our coming generations?

Inorganic Arsenic crosses the placenta and can cause fetal death, it can be detected in Mothers’ breast milk.

Children’s bodies are more susceptible to the damaging effects of Inorganic Arsenic.

Are these contaminants connected to our high numbers of infant deaths? Of infant/children brain seizures? Of Down Syndrome babies born to young mothers? Of babies born with extraordinarily short umbilical cords?

In April 2005 the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council declared a situation of Eminent Threat due to test results of individual and community water wells exceeding the EPA Standard MCL of Gross Alpha Particle Radionuclide and Arsenic.

Oglala Sioux Tribal Council Resolution #2005-46 states that:

Indian Health Service negligence in testing for safe drinking water has resulted in tribal members becoming ill.

The Resolution state that: the wells our people were drinking from were declared “Unfit for Consumption” due to illegal MCL’s.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Health on the Pine Ridge

Do we need a comprehensive health study on the Pine Ridge?

According to the South Dakota Cancer Report of 2003, counties on the Pine Ridge have a “significantly higher rate of cancer, diabetes, and infant mortality than the SD state average for the time period of 2001-2005”.

SD health records also state that in the “2003 Study, the American Indian cancer death rate was 30% higher than that of whites in South Dakota.”

The state records include the data that from the years “1999-2003 while the cancer death rate decreased for whites in SD, it increased for American Indians”.

For the years “2003 through 2005, the American Indian infant mortality rate increased at almost twice the rate for the white people in South Dakota.”

The report: Cancer in South Dakota, 2003 states “that American Indians had the highest age-adjusted rates for Years of Potential Life Lost” and that “American Indians are dying at a much younger age compared to whites”.

Why is this so?

“An In Situ Leach Mine is a Liquid Radioactive Nuclear Waste Dump.”

The Oglala Lakota People and the people of Nebraska and the surrounding area deserve to be informed about what impacts the Crow Butte Resources, Inc. Uranium Mine and the newly proposed North Trend and Three Crow In Situ Leach Uranium Mines will do to our water, land, people, animals, plants and future generations. The Oglala Sioux Tribe can and should do the right thing: investigate and produce a comprehensive report on this energy company’s violations and investigate how to hold them accountable to the EPA laws and other principles of respect for Mother Earth and our Sacred Water; and to hold the EPA and Federal Government responsible in upholding our Treaty and Human Rights to clean water, land, air, and health conditions based on a clean environment. By passing OST Ordinance 07-40 on August 7, 2007, this is the responsibility Tribal Council made a commitment to. Communities, towns, local governments can create Law that ban any corporate development that will produce toxic waste, can create Law that holds the producer of toxic waste liable, can create Law that acknowledges Mother Earth has a right to be contaminant-free. Interested folks and organizations in and around Nebraska –or any community who wishes to protect itself from deadly poisons- can engage in such work.

Indeed, this environmental issue truly goes beyond the boundaries of race, county lines, townships, state borders-it effects all of life in this area, and can reach far into the future generations of all living things: the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged, the standing silent nation (plants), those that crawl and swim, and our Sacred Water, Sacred Land, and Sacred Air.

For the Lakota Oyate (Lakota People) a clean environment is a matter of life and death. To expose our people to the deadly toxins of uranium mining is a threat to our survival as a people, we have no island from which we can draw more membership, this is environmental racism.

Without Water There Is No Life.

In Speaking of Radioactive Waste:

“They have created something that cannot be destroyed” –Winona LaDuke

On August 7, 2007 the OST passed Ordinance #07-40 which recognizes the responsibility of the OST to protect the land, air, water, and people of the tribe and which criminalizes nuclear contamination on the Pine Ridge and within 1851 & 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty boundaries.

“No Uranium Mining on Lakota Land”

Research Conducted by:

* Rayette Camp
* Victorio Camp
* Aaron Price
* Matt Rankin
* Chris Soverow
* The late Marlin “Moon Weston”
* Debra White Plume

Source Materials:

* Oglala Sioux Tribe Mni Wiconi Program Annual Reports 1999-2006 (Rural Water)
* OST Water & Sewer Program Reports
* OST Ordinances and Resolutions OST Archives Office
* Environmental Protection Agency
* Instate News (Nebraska)
* US Geological Study 1992-1997
* Wise Uranium
* Indigenous Mining
* SD Dept of Health & Human Services
* Indian Health Service, Pine Ridge Agency, Aberdeen Area Office
* The Case Against Uranium Solution Mining “An Environmental Critique of In Situ Leach Mining” at www.sea-us.org.au
* Cancer in South Dakota, 2003

For info contact:
Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), PO Box 325, Manderson, SD 57756
Debra White Plume, Director 605-455-2155
cryingearth_riseup@yahoo.com (email address)


Owe Aku: Bring Back the Way

“We Do Not Inherit Mother Earth From Our Ancestors, We Borrow Her From Our Children.” –Crazy Horse