Download the newsletter here Spring 2012 Basin Bulletin-newsletter.
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Not since the Virginia Pipeline battle has the Basin faced an issue as important as the threat of the Commonwealth of Virginia lifting the 30-year-old ban on uranium mining and milling in the State. Virginia Uranium Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian Corporation has plans to mine and mill uranium at a Coles Hill in Southside Virginia slightly north and west of Kerr Lake. This risky venture has been deemed a threat to the natural environment and safety of the Basins citizens’, which has occasioned the Roanoke River to be declared the third most endangered river in the United States by the American Rivers Organization in 2011.
Be assured your Roanoke River Basin Association is on the forefront of fighting to keep the ban through affiliations with organizations, communities, and coalitions also devoted to this cause. The opposition is bringing forward big dollars and lobbyists in an attempt to lure the Virginia General Assembly to lift the ban 2013. We are working feverishly on many fronts to educate and arouse the populace of both Virginia and North Carolina in the Basin. Uranium mining and milling has never been done safely anywhere in the United States. It has contaminated the environment and caused health problems in every location it has been done, even in the desert. To think one could do it safely in the geological atmosphere of Southside Virginia is simply frivolous and dangerous. One natural disaster or accident on the site could destroy the entire regions economy and lifestyle. It threatens our lifestyle, our real estate values and the very natural resources we required for agriculture, recreation, hunting, fishing and tourism for our livelihoods.
We simply cannot let this happen, and we are in need of resources and especially your support in this battle as never before. Your membership and any generous donations to the RRBA required for us to prevail. You are urged to visit and review the rrba.org web site as well as keeptheban.org and readthereports.org to learn more and follow events on the issue.
By/ Gene Addesso
Vice President & acting President
April 1, 2012
By INKA MILEWSKI
If Popular Road looks like any street in suburban Canada, it should.
The street, and the town where it was located, were the product of a 1950s planning model that was applied to countless cities and towns across Canada.
Two shopping plazas, precursor to malls, were at the center of the town’s suburban-like sprawl.
At its peak in 1960, the town had 25,000 residents and the distinction of being one of the largest single industry mining communities in Canadian history.
This was Elliot Lake.
Within a decade of its emergence from Ontario’s northern wilderness, the population plummeted to 6,700, only to bounce back in the 1980s.
The town’s population would rise and fall with every boom-and-bust in the industry.
After each bust, the boom would create a large (up to 50 percent in 1981) turnover of new residents.
Elliot Lake wasn’t just any mining town. It billed itself as the “Uranium Capital of the World”‘ (a title now claimed by Saskatchewan).
At the town’s entrance, visitors were greeted by a giant model of a uranium atom.
Between 1956 and 1966, there were 11 mines operating in the Elliot Lake-Blind River area.
Two of those mines, Milliken Lake and Stanleigh, were less than 3 km from Poplar Road.
Gus Froebel was a uranium miner. He lived with his wife and children at 32 Poplar Road.
In the early 70s, he developed lung cancer.
At the time, the Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB) and the uranium industry wouldn’t acknowledge there was a link between exposure to radiation in the mines and lung cancer.
As far as the WCB, industry, Atomic Energy Control Board and government-funded cancer research agencies were concerned, smoking among miners was the major cause of lung cancer.
With thousands of men working in uranium mines, reversing this mind-set would have huge policy and financial implications. Gus and the union who represented him were in for a long fight.
Forty years earlier, two Czech scientists (Pirchan and Sikl 1932) and physicians published a landmark study in the American Journal of Cancer. They linked miners’ lung tumors with radon exposure in Czechoslovakian mines.
Ten years later, Wilhelm C. Hueper, a world-leading expert on lung cancer and founding director of the environmental cancer section of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, came to the same conclusion.
He reviewed 300 years of radon data on European miners and found that radon gas produced lung cancer that killed more than half of all miners 10-20 years after their employment.
He issued warnings worldwide, including Canada. They were largely unheeded.
Declassified documents from the 1950s show that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission told Hueper that references to occupational cancers among uranium miners were “not in the public interest” and “represented mere conjecture”(Nikiforuk 1998).
Forty years after the Czech study was published and 30 years after Hueper’s warnings, a 1974 Ontario Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines found that Elliot Lake uranium miners were experiencing twice as many lung cancers as expected.
The report was filed the same year the WCB would hear Gus Froebel’s case.
Uranium is a heavy metal, in fact the heaviest. When ingested in food or dust, it rapidly appears in the bloodstream.
Like other heavy metals (e.g., cadmium, copper, lead and zinc), it quickly clears from the bloodstream and accumulates in bones where, like cadmium, it is thought to induce osteoporosis.
It is also toxic to kidneys. Like all metals, uranium can cross the placenta and reach the developing fetus.
Although insufficient studies have been done in humans, growth and developmental affects have been observed in fetal mice.
In 1999, Health Canada set an interim maximum acceptable concentration of uranium in drinking water at 0.02 milligrams per litre (mg/L).
Unlike any metal, uranium is radioactive. Trapped in ore and in the ground, uranium is relatively harmless unless it leaches into aquifers and contaminates drinking water or when its deadly radioactive by-products (thorium-230, radium-226, radon-222 and the radon daughters – lead-210, bismuth-210 and polonium- 210) escape through rock fissures and collects in the atmosphere or homes.
Uranium deposits in Elliot Lake were low grade. It took one tonne of ore to extract one kilogram of uranium.
The miner drilled, blasted and mucked (excavated) the ore and mill operators crushed it.
Through these processes, toxic radon gas and its deadly daughters were released.
The gas is easily inhaled and exhaled. The daughters, however, lodge in the lining of the lungs and bombard the delicate tissues with radiation.
As for the by-products, millions of tonnes of radioactive leftovers or tailings, they gave off 10,000 times more radon gas than undisturbed ore.
In 1932, the federal Department of Mines (as Natural Resources Canada was then known) knew from their own studies in Port Radium (in what was then called the Northwest Territories) that “a hazard may exist in the breathing of air containing even small amounts of radon”(Nikiforuk 1998).
The federal government would not set radon standards until 1967.
Gus Froebel won his battle with the Workmen’s Compensation Board in 1974. It was hailed as a landmark victory.
Lung cancer in uranium miners would now be recognized as being caused by exposure to radiation.
Even so, making a claim wouldn’t be a simple matter. Miners filing claims would often have to jump through many hoops to prove their eligibility.
It was a long, sometimes expensive and not always successful process.
Not long after his victory, Gus died of his disease.
My father was also a uranium miner in Elliot Lake. Like Gus Froebel, we lived on Poplar Road just four doors away.
Like Gus, and hundreds of other uranium miners, my father died of lung cancer that eventually spread to his brain.
Despite having chest x-rays every year (as required for all miners), a lung biopsy, hospitalized several times, breathing difficulties and finally collapsing in the mine, local doctors attributed his condition to all kinds of diseases except work-related lung cancer.
Convinced my father’s case was eligible for compensation, we sought second and third medical opinions, hired a lawyer and eventually won.
Not all miners and their families were as determined.
And like Gus, my father didn’t live long after his victory.
While the last mine in Elliot Lake closed in 1996, the toxic legacy of uranium mining lives on in the miners, the majority of whom with their families are scattered across Canada.
Any meaningful assessment of the true health impacts of uranium mining on Elliot Lake residents is almost impossible because of the high turnover in the population over the decades.
The massive uranium tailing areas are legend. They are the subject of hundreds of studies, documentaries, books, photos and support an army of scientists and engineers that are trying to figure out how to contain the contamination.
Inka Milewski is the science adviser and director of health watch for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick in Canada.
February 16, 2012
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Re: North Carolina Sportsmen and Sportswomen Urge You to Expeditiously Restore Clean Water Act Protections for Wetlands, Lakes, and Streams
Dear Mr. President:
The North Carolina sportsman and conservation organizations listed above, representing thousands of hunters, anglers, and conservationists statewide, urge your administration to expeditiously finalize your guidance and initiate rulemaking to clarify the waters protected by the Clean Water Act. Restoring protections for streams, wetlands, and other waters is a priority that you share with sportsmen and women here in North Carolina and across the country.
North Carolinians depend on their 242,500 miles of rivers and streams for clean and abundant drinking water, diverse and abundant fish and wildlife habitat, and local fishing, hunting, bird-watching, and boating recreation that support a strong outdoor recreation economy. In 2006 alone, hunters, anglers, and other wildlife enthusiasts spent a total of more than $2.7 billion in North Carolina on wildlife-related recreation. These expenditures support more than 47,000 jobs in the state.
But over half of these stream miles flow intermittently or are headwater streams that are now at risk of pollution and degradation. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 and related agency guidance have confused and limited the scope of the Clean Water Act and made it much more difficult to maintain and restore North Carolina’s intermittently flowing streams, headwaters, and freshwater wetlands.
Weakened stream and wetland protections on the federal level leave these waters more vulnerable to adverse impacts from development and discharges of pollutants which ultimately could result in changing water temperatures, increasing erosion and sedimentation, changing nutrient levels, lowering water quality, and degrading critical and unique fish and wildlife habitats. The dredging and filling of these waters also reduces their flood storage capacity and increases flooding and flood damage downstream.
In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential to act now to begin restoring lost Clean Water Act protections as consistent with existing law and science.
We commend your administration for taking a very positive first step last spring by proposing new guidance for the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow in determining Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The draft guidance, which garnered broad support from hundreds of thousands of people during the public comment period, is science-based and clearly respects the Supreme Court’s decisions. To complete this process, we urge the Corps and EPA to finalize and begin following the guidance at the earliest possible date.
Although issuing final guidance is valuable, it is even more important to initiate the rulemaking process to clarify and strengthen the Corps and EPA regulatory definitions of “waters of the United States.” A successful rulemaking process can provide clarity about the specific waters covered by the Act – clarity that is badly needed by land owners, developers, conservationists, and state and federal agencies alike.
In closing, our organizations and members across North Carolina strongly urge you to commence rulemaking in early 2012 in order to safeguard America’s clean water legacy, as well as our hunting and fishing heritage. We applaud the steps taken by your administration this year, and we are committed to actively supporting the essential next step.
Albemarle Conservation & Wildlife Chapter
Carolina Fly Fishing Club
Carteret County Wildlife Club
Catawba Valley Wildlife Club
Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina
Coastal Fisheries Reform Group
Cumberland County Wildlife Club, Inc.
Five County Bassmasters
Gaston County Piedmont Area Wildlife Stewards
Greater Raleigh Outdoors and Wildlife
Habitat and Wildlife Keepers
Lake James Area Wildlife and Nature Society
Lake Norman Rod & Gun Club
Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists
Leopold Wildlife Club
Lincolnton Sportsman Club
Moore County Wildlife and Conservation Club
Mountain Island Lake Wildlife Stewards
North Carolina Camouflage Coalition
North Carolina Handicapped Sportsmen, Inc.
North Carolina State Chapter of Quality Deer Management Association
North Carolina State University Student Fisheries Society
North Carolina Trout Unlimited, State Council
North Carolina Wildlife Federation
Protecting, Advocating, and Conserving Together (PACT) in the High Country
Roanoke River Basin Association
Sandhills Rod and Gun Club
Triangle Fly Fishers
Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc.
For Immediate Release: February 7, 2012
Contacts: Gene Addesso, RRBA, (919) 414-4591Tiffany Haworth, DRBA, (336) 627-6161
WATER GROUPS WELCOME LAUNCH OF 5-MONTH PUBLIC OUTREACHBY NATIONAL ACADEMIES URANIUM COMMITTEE
Danville, VA - On February 7, 2011, members and officers of the Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) and Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) attended a public briefing by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the findings of its recently released technical report on uranium mining. By holding the public meeting in Danville, VA, the NAS has launched a five-month public outreach, as required under the NAS agreement with Virginia Tech, the official sponsor of the uranium mining study. The National Academy of Sciences report on uranium mining, released on December 19, 2011, has validated all of the concerns raised by the two associations and put Virginia’s legislators on notice of risks and uncertainties associated with allowing uranium mining and milling in Virginia’s unpredictable climate and of the inability of the modern day technology to eliminate all of those risks. The report also highlighted the lack of expertise and experience at both the state and federal levels to regulate and enforce regulations for uranium mining in Virginia’s climate.
In their efforts to prevent uranium mining in the basin’s watershed, the RRBA andDRBA have been joined by over 100 organizations and localities in Virginia and North Carolina that have expressed their support for the uranium mining ban. Despite the general consensus among Virginia citizens and legislators that year 2012 should be devoted to conducting public meetings to educate the public on the findings of numerous uranium mining studies released late last year, the Governor of Virginia issued an executive order directing the development of statutory and administrative regulations for uranium mining and milling, thereby sidestepping the legislative process established by the Virginia law.
“We believe that before any taxpayer funds are diverted from education andtransportation needs and spent on developing regulations for the industry that is currently banned in Virginia, the public, legislators, and elected officials should educate themselves about the NAS report findings. Virginia citizens should use this opportunity before rushing into a decision that has the potential of changing the Commonwealth’s image forever,” said Tiffany Haworth, DRBA’s executive director.
“The takeaway from this meeting is very simple – the NAS report concluded that notechnology currently exists capable of eliminating all of the risks and uncertaintiesassociated with uranium mining, processing and waste storage. No regulations, no matter how stringent, would be able to compensate for the lack of the right technology to make the uranium operations disaster proof over the long term in Virginia’s unpredictable climate,” said Gene Addesso, the RRBA acting president. “The prudent course of action for our elected officials is to keep the ban in place until the industry can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the level of technology has caught up with the modern society’s expectation of complete safety.”
The Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) is a non-profit organization with a 67- year history of serving as the voice for the development, use, preservation, and enhancement of the Roanoke River Basin’s resources. The RRBA represents the two-state region that would host the first uranium mining and milling site east of the Mississippi if Virginia’s 30-year ban on uranium mining is lifted. The RRBA has taken a lead role in the investigation of the proposed uranium mining and milling in the basin.Address: Suite 112L, Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, 150 Slayton Avenue, Danville , VA 24540.
The Dan River Basin Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working across the Dan River basin in both North Carolina and Virginia to promote sustainable economic growth through education, recreation and stewardship of the region’s natural and cultural resources. To become a member or find out more, visit