Uranium Mining's Toxic Legacy in the West

ProPublica looks at example of Grants, New Mexico
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2022 2:30 PM CDT
Uranium Mining's Toxic Legacy in the West
In this Nov. 13, 1979, file photo, the United Nuclear Corp. uses a combination of hand work and heavy machinery to clear up a uranium tailings spill along the Rio Puerco. Signs warn residents in three languages to avoid the water in Church Rock, N.M.   (AP Photo/SMH, File)

(Newser) – The city of Grants, New Mexico, was once considered the “carrot capital” of America. That changed in 1958 when Homestake Mining Company opened a uranium mill on the outskirts of town. Today, Homestake is still in business, but the mill is closed, and Grants will soon be a ghost town, according to ProPublica, which interviewed dozens of residents and delved deep into the history of uranium mining across the West. ProPublica finds that Grants is “emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry,” including a well-documented history of secrecy and failures by various companies and government agencies. That legacy also includes poisoned groundwater, soil, and air, as well as clusters of cancer and other illnesses among miners, mill workers, and local residents who blame the mining companies and say they were never warned of the risks.

Despite recommendations from a state engineer at the time, Homestake did not build a liner between the earth and the mounds of waste, or tailings, created by uranium processing. Those tailings piled high and inevitably seeped into nearby aquifers, with residents, livestock, and crops exposed to radon and other toxins. When the mill closed in 1990, Homestake began negotiating with the NRC and EPA to clean the water. But time and again, the company missed targets and deadlines, per ProPublica. Now, Homestake has essentially given up, saying “it is not technically feasible to provide additional, sustainable improvements to water quality.” Instead, it’s offering buyouts to landowners. As ProPublica puts it, "the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away." Read the full story here. (Read more uranium stories.)

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