Midnite Mine and Superfun Yellowcake

Superfun Yellowcake
This is the ruff for a final paper this quarter. The research was exhausting. There’s a lot of good info on what happened to the Spokane Res here. DIG:
The Midnight Mine is a bad place. It is hazardous to live near it. The mine inspires emotional reactions from the people that know about it. It has caused a lot of suffering. The story of how uranium mining may have poisoned the Reservation is sad and complicated. To better understand what has been going on there, it is necessary to understand the Reservation, the history of the Mine, how uranium is derived from the mine, and what by products are created. The question of what those by products are and where they go is paramount. Scientific data from U.S. government and Tribal Agencies are useful to understanding what happened, if they can be understood. Actions of the Spokane Trbal Commission and EPA illustrate the sadness and complexity of the problem. In the end, all the scientific data and clean-up efforts can do nothing to change the damage currently experienced on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
The Area and Local Legends
Someone looking for cheap real estate in this area will find stories about a place called Uranium City. Uranium City was a planned boomtown that never quite got off the ground. Locals say they had a movie theater and a bolling alley, which would have made it a real town in the area. The Reservation itself is scenic but too dry for largescale agriculture. Closer to the Lower Spokane River, and far south of the Twin Rivers Casino, there is an abandoned uranium mine called Midnight Mine. Comments about the Mine are unavoidable in any long conversation about the Spokane Indian Reservation.  Michael “Bubbles” Richerson, of the long established, local Tierosky clan, said it was called MIdnight Mine because of the two Indian brothers who discovered the ores with a blacklight at night. These LeBret Brothers would later start the Midnight Mine Company, which became a subsidary of Dawn Mining Company. He says that the mine was well recieved at first because the jobs were good. Uranium was seen as a rescource that whites didn’t yet have complete control over. An often repeated story around the Res says that uranium ore is almost everywhere on the earth, but early miners didn’t know this and expected an economic boom whenever uranium was discovered. The pretty, old building that was once Ford Schoolhouse, is said to be uninhabitable because of it’s proximity to uranium processing. A long dirt road across the Res was said to be paved with waste rock from the mine site, and a CDC report confirms this story. He also said that the dividends the Tribal Government recieved from the mining was smaller than promised. If the mining of uranium empowered the Reservation Indians and built an economy on the reservation, there is no evidence of it today.
All currently available evidence suggests that the residents of the Spokane Indian Reservation got shafted; but many residents are working hard to correct the problems. Infrastructure and business have always been small on the Res. There is a shortage of highly educated people who live there. (Cornwall, Radioctive Remains) This made them easy targets for large companies to plunder resources from. It also makes them a poor match against Newmont lawyers. (Ferguson, The Midnight Mine) The rural, low wage cultural feel around Stevens and Lincoln counties takes on very negative associations within the Reservation’s borders. There is a sense that the people outside the Res chose the lifestyle, and the people inside the Res had it forced upon them. Sherman Alexie once wrote, poeticly, that “No one winds up on the Spokane Reservation by accident.” Like many Spokane Reservation residents, he felt threatened by the high cancer rates. He suffered from a rare and dangerous congenital brain disorder as a child, and his grandmother was one of the many esophogial cancer deaths on the Res. (Cornwall, Radioctive Remains) Twa’Le Abrahamson, also of the Spokane Res, was unnerved by the health damage on the Spokane Reservation. She went west to persue higher education, became an environmental activist, and later returned to the Res as an air quality supervisor. She has written and spoken a lot about the Midnight Mine and resulting damage to the area.  She said “We don’t have a lot of tribal members that have the technical expertise to address the mine,” Her mother, Deb Abrahamson, was central in starting the S.H.A.W.L. program to raise awareness on the Res. They got cooperation from T.O.S.N.A.C., colleges, environmentalists, Native Rights Groups, and Navajo Uranium Miner groups. These Nevada Navajos and Zunis had banned uranium mining on their Reservation because they had epidemic lung cancer rates. (Cornwall, Radioctive Remains) The Abrahamsons’ work eventually led the EPA to declare the Spokane Res mine a superfund site, meaning that special federal funds may be available for environmental clean-up. In a Democracy Now interview with Twa-le, (uploaded by mediagrrl9 on Apr 22, 2009) She brought up another point that isn’t widely known: Mine run off was completely untreated until 1981. The need to scientifically verify the cause and effect relationship between hazardous wastes and health risks has been a sticking point in the legal process needed for reparation and clean-up. With or without scientific proof of physical harm, most tribal members have stopped fishing and hunting in the Reservation area. (Cornwall, Radioctive Remains)
Topological map of the mine site, with Blue Creek inlet visible as “mine dump” on the upper margin. (from USGS)
History of the Midnight Mine
The Midnight Mine is situated near the confluence of the Spokane River and Blue Creek. In the 50’s, gold prospectors from Newmont Mining Corporation were searching the area. Two brothers from the Reservation had discovered uranium ore there. Hanford had already become the world’s largest holder of weapons grade plutonium. the  uranium ores found in Eastern Washington spiked in market value. Dawn Mining Company, a subsidary of Newmont Mining Corpration, began mining uranium ore on the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1956. The nebulous legal status of reservations makes it a more economical place to mine uranium. The Midnight Mine is directly on the reservation The milling site, where the raw ore was processed into yellowcake was on the other side of the reservation by Ford. The LeBret brothers, Spokane Indians, played a leading role in starting mining on the Reservation. At first, laws applying to the mining operation were managed by federal authorities only, and outside Washington State jurisdictions. For allowing this ecologically dangerous strip mine to operate on the reservation, The Spokane Tribes recieved much needed jobs and a division of the profits. The dangers were not well understood on the reservation, and this saved money for the mine. In 1969, the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Washington State sole legal jurisdiction, and Washington Dept. of Public Health began inspecting the site. (WA DOH timeline) This negated some of the benefits of mining on the Reservation but cheap labor and legal gray-area still existed. In 1981, Washington State ammended the mine’s liscences, requiring them to safely store and insulate “mill tailings” from the local environment. These mill tailings are mostly rock and wastewater that are mildly radioactive and contain high levels of heavy metals. Harmful by products are naturally created in any strip-mining process. These tailing disposal areas are little more than pits into which the wastes are dumped. There are several pipes around the pits allowing the various environmental and energy regulatory offices to test the ground water. These monotoring sites were installed in 1999. In 1981 the plant started treating the run-off that had previously been left on the ground, in the ground water, in Blue Creek, and in the Spokane River. Partly due to health and safety standard enforcement efforts, uranium mining costs were rising in thr Spokane Reservation and elsewhere. The market price was also falling as the cold war cooled down and more countries began realizing how plentiful the ore was. In 1982, the mining ceased. Dawn Mining Corporation was still legally obligated to maintain the site and minimize environmental harm after mining had stopped. (WA DOH timeline) The most serious motivating factor in their decision to make some clean-up and containment effort came from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This federal office can act independant from DOE and EPA. It has the power to pull Dawn’s liscense to mine if they break too many operating rules.  In 1989, Washington Dept. of Health detected dangerous contaminants leaking from mill tailing pits into Chamokane Creek(Tshimikan). Legal arguments about how best to deal with the contamination lasted around six years. In 1995 the mining company started on the plan they had settled on with Washington Dept. of Health. It called for 5 of the waste pits to be lined with an enormous plastic sheet. Waste water would be pumped out to a plant that would remove heavy metals and radionuclides, then dumped into the Spokane River. (WA DOH timeline) Radionuclides are particles with an unstable nucleus. There’s no way to stabilise these particles without releasing gamma, alpha, and beta radiation. One of the less toxic pits was filled over in a clean up effort. Trees were planted and most quickly died. Run-off from this attempted clean up site is harder to measure. The rest of the mining waste was pumped into ponds for evaporation into the air, and further treatment. Ideally, this process leaves only solid contaminants in the pond, which are kept from entering the environment by the heavy plastic sheet. In many cases, uncontaminated earth is piled on top of the solid wastes, to keep living things from coming into contact with it. This was tried on one evaporation pond but results were undesirable. By 2001, the State had further ammended Dawn Corporation’s liscensing to prevent them from shipping the mill tailings out of state, or dumping waste from other sites on the Spokane Reservation. At that time, the State had set a reclamation date (at which time the site was supposed to be habitable) for 2013. (WA DOH Timeline)
Strip Mining Uranium
Strip mining uranium works in various ways, depending on the geology and type of ore. Strip mining in general works by grinding up rock and dirt that contains some stratified content of the desired material. The ground up rock is mixed into a heavy liquid like arsenic or mercury, that has an atomic weight greater than the material being mined. By weight manipulation, electrolosys, chemical dissolving, and/or settling, the mined metal is isolated and seperated. What is left is ground up rocks, liquid metals, strong acids, and other chemicals. The process is ecologically dangerous in gold mining, silver mining, and lead mining. When the mined material is radioactive, the same hazards are present, plus the hazard of radioctive materials. When prospectors find deposits of uranium rich rock, it is usually not toxic or radioactive enough to be a danger in it’s natural form. Even the processed yellowcake is less hazardous than most people believe. At the Midnight Mine site near Wellpinit, the first step was blasting the rock apart. Men and women with geiger counters would run down into the still cloudy blast zone, then direct the local native labor to where the most radioactive rock was located. None of these laborers wore masks. The plant managers did not follow current OSHA protocols for the handling of hazardous materials. They would load it into trucks and carry it across the reservation, across Highway 231 and into Ford. These first steps created the fine solid particulates that light up the trucking routes on aerial surveys. At the processing plant, ground material with 2-.02% U-308 was dumped from the open trucks into a channel with an archemedes screw, similar to the kind used in grain silos. (Fissionable U-308 can be further processed in a calutron into weapons grade plutonium, or processed into purer U-308 rods for nuclear power plants.) It was then ground further and had a strong sulpheric acid added. This process is the first step of what is called a “leaching circuit”. An oxidant (manganese dioxide or sodium chlorate) is added to further break up the minerals into seperable constituents. The naturally occuring 4 or 5 sided uranium molecules break apart. When the uranium starts to recombine, it is in a six-sided molecule that is more soluble. This sludge from the leaching process commonly contains acids, oxidants, uranium, iron, aluminium, magnesium, vanadium, calcium, molybdenum, copper, and sometimes selenium. (Seidel, Extracting Uranium) When plant workers couldn’t dump the barrels out completely, they would often scrape the sticky bits out by hand. (Kramer. Spokane Tribe members worked gladly.) The uranium is seperated out of this mix by adding an organic amine salt that is diluted in kerosene. This bonds the uranium bits together into a non-soluble form again. After this, the sludge that is 2-1 grams of uranium per liter, goes through a process of settling, washing,  and siphoning off until it is free of water and carbon-based. Then, an inorganic salt like sodium chloride or ammonium sulphate is added, to seperate the inorganic U-308, which rises to the top. (Seidel, Extracting Uranium)
The U-308, or yellowcake, is impure enough to safely transport, but pure enough to have commercial value. This uranium octaoxide bearing sulpheric brimstone is often spongy and yellow before it is crushed into a powder. For this reason, it is commonly called yellowcake. (Conventional Mining, UPA) This low-grade uranium is then shipped out for further processing.  Each pound of U-308 requires the presence of around 10-20 pounds of the other combined chemicals used in the sludge. This is clear from the reported ratio of uranium octaoxide derived in most leaching cycles. (Seidel, Extracting Uranium) Washington Department of Health says that Dawn Mining corporation shipped out approximately 58million cubic feet of yellowcake. (WA DOH timeline) A cubic foot of uranium octaoxide  weighs about 534.653 lbs. (GDR.Uranium Hazards) Logically, there would have to be at least 155 million tons of waste materials present at some point.
Blue Creek confluence
This inlet is where most of the mine run-off enters the Spokane River system.
It is near many popular recreational sites, including Blue Creek campground and Porcupine Bay.
Those millions of tons of mixed acids, oxidants, uranium, iron, aluminium, magnesium, vanadium, calcium, molybdenum, copper, and processing materials have all been exposed to low-level radiation. This radiation makes the chemical combining and break up very unpredictable over time. (Conventional Mining, UPA) These mill tailings sit in large open pits, oxidizing, with rain water mixing in and evaporating off, with a plastic sheet ensuring us that it will not seep into the ground water. Various offices argue about what should be done and how long it might take. The Spokane Tribal Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Washington Department of Ecology, and Newmont attourneys have all talked a lot about what is going on there. Actions from their discussions have been materialising at a painfully slow rate. (Kramer, Cleanup OK’d)
Available Public Data
Most of the published reports omit actual human health data. Health statistics on cancer and metal poisoning around the reservation and Ford are suspiciously hard to find, for reasons that will be outlined later. A Native American interest group called TOSNAC was operating under an EPA grant and Spokane Tribal funds. They are associated with several midwestern universities, and have provided some good reports. Their reports are paraphrased from unintelligable EPA data and other research for educational programs on the Spokane Res. The Spokane Reservation has worked hard to raise awareness. They even let you check out geiger counters from the library at Wellpinit. (Cornwall, Radioactive Remains. 17) The science needed to paint a clear, provable portrait of what happened is difficult for experts and laypeople alike. TOSNAC’s Risk Assessment of 2005  (Midnite Mine Cleanup Plans. TOSNAC.27-29) attempts to measure the environmental damage in a way that is applicable to people who fish, hunt, and hold sweat lodges in effected areas. Their scientifically solid report found uranium, manganese, uranium-238, and uranium-234 (An atomic number different than regular uranium means that its nucleus is unstable, and it is a radionoclide.) in the ground water. They found that the EPA’s data ” identifies a large number of metal contaminants in surface water, sediment and soils”. They go on to describe why the EPA cannot make accurate measurements of the health impact of radionoclides. (Midnite Mine Cleanup Plans. TOSNAC)
USGS has done clear, unbiased research on the site. In a 2007 report on the Blue Creek Watershed, the following quote was found after weeks of info-mining: “During the period of active mining (1956?1981), enrichment of base metals in the sediment of Blue Creek delta was elevated by as much as 4 times the concentration of those same metals prior to mining. Cadmium concentrations were elevated by a factor of 10 and uranium by factors of 16 to 55 times premining geochemical background determined upstream of the mine site. Postmining metal concentrations in sediment are lower than during the mining period, but remain elevated relative to premining geochemical background.” (USGS Watertable Data) Premining background includes all the other pollution sources they know of, so the elevated levels they found take the measurable metals from area metals mining and fuel processing as a baseline. Their research clearly shows that cadmium levels are 10 times what you would normally have downriver from all the silver mines of North Idaho. Cadmium is especially dangerous because unlike most heavy metals, it is digested and taken in by plants. Animals feeding on these plants will injest larger amounts of cadmium. Anything eating these animals will injest even more cadmium. In a paper about biosolids and plants, Sally Brown, PhD of WSU wrote
 “…in Japan after World War II, people living downstream from a smelter ate rice that had high concentrations of cadmium. Because their diets were deficient in necessary nutrients, a high proportion of the cadmium that they ate was absorbed in their intestines. As a result of the combination of malnutrition and high cadmium, many people developed  itai itai disease, resulting in multiple bone fractures. There were also  some deaths attributed to excess cadmium in diets. In addition, wildlife in the vicinities of smelters have shown that liver and kidney function can be compromised when animals eat too  much cadmium. […] A recent study observed that birds that ate willow buds grown on mine-tailing impacted soils had reproductive problems because of the excess cadmium in their diets.” (Brown. Biosolids and Plants)
 This report, worded for laypeople, explains how cadmium in the ground can be impossible to contain from the surrounding biosphere whenever plants are present. Plants and herbivorous animals are present at the Midnight Mine site and in the waterways. She also explains how harmful it can be. Cadmium is only one of the many heavy metals found in the Blue Creek Watershed. The USGS report also expressed concern about untested areas of Lake Roosevelt. (Church, Kirchner, et al. Determination of Premining Geochemical Background )
The Center for Disease Control has a division called the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR. Their data is intended to protect people from harm, so it is all on public record. A 2010 report on human health risks around the Midnight Mine, said that  arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, and uranium have been released via groundwater and run-off. “Elevated concentrations of site-related metals and radionuclides were detected in surface water and sediments up to approximately 3.5 miles downstream of the mine site.” (Atsdr Public Health Eval) Most of the highly toxic areas are now fenced and locals know not to wander in, but ATSDR inspectors found Deer, elk and coyote tracks around pit 3. This suggests that local wildlife is drinking some of the most contaminated water directly. This document also says that the mine site’s ground water moves along the bedrock, toward drainage into cracks in the bedrock, Blue Creek, and Lake Roosevelt. Around half the Reservation gets it’s drinking water from private wells. In a previous section on groundwater, the ATSDR states “Groundwater in the mined area contains high concentrations of metals and naturally occurring uranium isotopes and their decay products. Uranium concentrations are thousands of times above health based comparison values (see Table 2 in Appendix A). Thorium and radium isotopes are also significantly elevated in groundwater, but to a lesser extent than the uranium [EPA 2005].” (Atsdr Public Health Eval) The ATSDR made the following public recommendation without apology or backpedaling: Avoid spending more than one hour a day at the mine site to limit exposure to radiation and radon gas. You shouldn’t eat berries or plants gathered from the Blue Creek drainage where the mine is located, or fish from the creek. Meat from deer and elk that forage in the drainage could also pose health risks. This report details specifically which metals are dangerously high in the Blue Creek areas, the associated maladies, and which age and cultural groups are most effected. Subsistance hunting and gathering, sweat lodges, fishing, and “dermal contact with Blue Creek seeps” all greatly increase one’s risk of metal poisoning. (Atsdr Public Health Eval)
The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy periodically take measurements in the most effected area, but the DOE report only lists measurements of a few less toxic by-products and the EPA’s reports said
“In May 2000, due to elevated levels of metals and radionuclides at the site, EPA listed Midnite Mine on the Superfund National Priorities List of sites eligible for federal cleanup funds. EPA then began the Superfund cleanup process, which includes a large scale study of the problem and public comment on proposed cleanup options. “
 This is federal language that can be paraphrased as “There is a serious problem and we will talk about it a lot. In the mean time, just wait and comment.”
In 2011, an aerial survey was conducted in conjunction with Spokane Tribes, and EPA. The Tribes payed for part of it. Among the wealth of confusing data, the aerial survey at http://www.epa.gov/region10/pdf/sites/midnite_mine/aerial_survey_report_oct2011.pdf is one of the clearest indicators of radionuclide distribution. This aerial survey data shows radioactivity rates over 45,000mr per hour in and adjacent to the waste pits on the mine site. Most of the mine site, and a line going down to Blue Creek, as well as the processing site near highway 231, and the Sherwood Mine site (only active for five years) put out over 25,000mr per hour.  The roads, valleys and geological low spots between the severely effected mine site and mildly radioactive processing site put out between 20000mr per hour and 25000mr per hour. The rest of the surveyed area shows less than 5000mr per hour, which is not hazardous. (This is a general measurement of radioactivity present in air particles It doesn’t tell us the type of radiation. The numbers are adjusted for expected geological radiation and electromagnetic radiation produced by the plane.)This data is encouraging in some respects because it suggests that most of the radionoclides are contained to three specific areas, and aren’t being moved around very much by wind and rain. (EPA and Spokane Tribes. Airborne Radiological Surveys)
The only house within a mile of the site was abandoned, but other homes less than 4 miles from the site get their water from ground wells. People do live in effected areas. This is a reservation. The land was partly set aside for them so that they could hunt, fish, and gather wild foods.  Many of the residents are here because their recent ancestors were forced to live here. (Spokane Tribal IRMP. 2)
Pit 4 still contains enough radon to glow at night. (photo courtesy of EPA)
Radionoclides and metals have a cummulative effect in an ecosystem. For example, if small fish each contain one gram of cadmium, and a larger fish eats 10 of them, then an osprey eats 10 of those larger fish, that osprey contains around 100 grams of cadmium. The particles in this oversimplified example may not be lethal to the smaller fish, but could kill all the top predators. People are top predators. Water also distributes these particles. Open waste pits send lighter contaminates into the air whenever the water evaporates. Wind moves contaminated dust around.(Atsdr Public Health Eval) As evidenced in the aerial survey, radionoclides accumulate in the valleys and low lying parts of the reservation. These areas are where run-off water passes through on it’s way to larger local waterways like the Spokane and Columbia rivers. Data on metal contaminants near the Spokane and Columbia intersection exists for fisheries, but it is hard to tell Midnite Mine pollutants from the pollutants of other sources. EPA reports that “[Near lake Roosevelt] Uranium was detected in 83 of 368 sediment samples, with concentrations ranging between 4.6 and 127 mg/kg…” They add, however, that CLP reporting rules make these measurements unusable. Heavy metals are still detectable at levels far above what is considered normal for this waterway. Spokane River flows from Lake CoureD’Alene, which is well known to contain heavy metals from earlier silver mining. (Church, Kirchner, et al. Determination of Premining Geochemical Background ) Cadmium and arsenic levels in the Spokane River, downriver from the Midnite Mine, are over 4 times what they are above the site. Data suggesting the spread of radionoclides into Wellpinit, Spokane, Okanogan, Lincoln, and Stevens Counties does exist, (Johnson, Heavy Metals Transport) (Church, Kirchner, et al. Determination of Premining Geochemical Background ) but the source and effects are hard to prove scientificly.
Something Might Be Done
By 2012, the EPA had a plan together where Dawn Mining Corporation would do some of the clean-up that the Washington State Health authorities couldn’t force them to do. The Native owners of the mine have long since gone broke, and Newmont will be required to cover their share of the economic responsibility. (EPA Action Plan) (WA DOH Timeline) Newmont and Dawn Corporations are to design and implement the project and pay for some of it. Public funds will cover the rest via Dept. of the Interior. (Kramer, Cleanup OK’d)This addition of large public funds may be necessary but the privatising of public funds is a political sore spot in our current age of Corporate-Government closeness. The Tribal Government and EPA will look over the Corporations shoulder and make sure they do it right. The Corporations will also pay the Tribes to monitor the site for the long term. The EPA currently plans to get the clean-up started by 2014. This plan assumes that the science exists to bring toxins down to acceptable levels, and that the Mining Corporations will cooperate. The EPA has good data on what the measurements should be after the clean-up but, as mentioned above, the data on current toxin levels is incomplete. (EPA Action Plan)
Human Beings
Epodunk.com, a health statistics site, reports that Wellpinit had 1024 deaths from 1999 to 2001. 243 of these were from cancer. Death resulting from metal poisoning complications are not measured in an applicable way but the reported cancer rates tell us something. Wellpinits’ cancer rate of roughly 24%  is not far above other Washington citie’s rates for the same year. The same health stats site reports Seattle’s cancer rate at 25% of all recorded deaths for the same year. Most people on the Reservation know several young and old people who have died of cancer. (Kramer. Spokane Tribe members worked gladly…) The relationship between environmental toxins on the Res and the medical problems there are frustratingly hard to define. Toxins and the maladies associated with them have been proven to exist, but the picture is complicated.(2004 Spokane Tribal IRMP)  Native Americans already have increased rates of esophogial cancer. Alchohol and tobacco consumption, and asbestos presence is high on the Res, and they also cause esophogial and lung cancers. People tend to focus on the radionoclides because they are scary, and often miss the greater threats from metals in the ground water. Acute metal poisoning is diagnosed and treated when a child eats a tube of oil paints but continual, long term exposure to several metals ingested in different ways are not easily diagnosed as metal poisoning. Developing fetuses are most effected by metals in the mother’s diet, but the ratio of a pregnant mother’s methyl mercury consumption to the fetal exposure is a long fractional function that takes a lot of calculation to understand. Cancers caused by inhalation of particulates can take 30 years or more to manifest. (Kramer. Spokane Tribe members worked gladly…) Metals and other pollutants already exist in the waterways from other sources. (Atsdr Public Health Eval) Experts disagree on testing methods and the harm that can result from simultanious action of several inorganic toxins. Environmental harm takes the form of a long chain of interdependent events that are often difficult to measure without rigorous work. There is no profit incentive for researchers to prove that the world’s largest mining corporation harmed a small reservation outside Spokane.
The arguments over verifyable scientific proof seem less important when someone tells you directly that the Mine killed several of their loved ones. (Kramer. Cleanup Ok’d) If the fears over toxins were unfounded, the impact on people who are afraid to fish are still real. When an entire population of around 2000, 85% Native, is so marginalised that their probable poisoning is a small concern, it is harm. Becky Kramer interviewed Harold Kramer for the Spokesman Review in 2011. (Kramer. Spokane Tribe members worked gladly…) Harold digs graves for the Res free of charge, and knows something about the actual deaths on the Spokane Res. He said “I watch them die, young and old, […]I think it’s caused by the radiation.” Harold has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He appeared in a video made for SHAWL and was genuinely emotional. (The Midnite Mine. Ferguson) Bob Brisbois lost five family members in a year. All of them had cancer, and they were not all old. Randy Abrahamson, who lost one young child to a brain tumor and now has another child fighting a brain tumor, echoed the thoughts of many when he said “There’s too much illness in this little community, […] I know there’s something going on.” Incidents of severe rhuematoid arthritis that are similar to the symptoms of systemic metal poisoning are also said to be very high on the Res.  (Kramer. Spokane Tribe members worked gladly…)
The CDC’s recommended limit of one hour per day near the Midnight MIne site should not be ignored. People can further minimize their risk by avoiding the site altogether. The criminal poisoning of the Spokane Reservation is sad and hard to fully understand but visiting the mine site is not necessarily helpful. Clean-up of the site may begin within a decade but there is no gaurantee that the site will be safe after that. Hunting, fishing, and swimming are inadvisable in Blue Creek, Tshimikan River, Lake Roosevelt section of the Columbia, and the Lower Spokane River. Cattle, game, plants, and well water that may have come in contact with the effected site should also be avoided. The mine’s history, scientific studies, experiences of Reservation residents, local stories, and the inherent flaws of strip mining all characterize the Midnight Mine site as a good place to avoid.
Sources and works cited
web sources
[ATSDR public health assesment for Midnite Mine. Frieden, Falk, et al. May 19, 2010. CDC.] http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/pha/MidniteMineSiteFinal/MM-FinalReleasePHAFINAL05172010ATSDRwebsite.pdf
[CONVENTIONAL MINING AND MILLING OF URANIUM ORE , prepared for Uranium Producers of America. accessed Aug. 12th, 2012] http://www.uraniumproducersamerica.com/tech.html
[Extracting Uranium from it’s Ores. Seidel. IAEA BULLETIN, VOL. 23, No.2] http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull232/23204882428.pdf
[Midnite Mine-WAD980978753. Scorecard.goodguide.com (a pollution info site sourcing EPA data)] http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/land/site-desc-long.tcl?epa_id=WAD980978753
[Midnite Mine – Wellpinit, Washington. Legal Examiner wiki. Aug. 2008.] http://wiki.legalexaminer.com/topic/midnite-mine-wellpinit.aspx
[Midnite uranium mine, Spokane, WA. Thorpe, Nick. May 2011. Washington Nuclear Museum. 2011] http://toxipedia.org/display/wanmec/Midnite+uranium+mine,+Spokane,+WA
[Spokane Tribal Community/Midnite Mine Superfund Site. TOSNAC/SHAWL. Outreach Tosnac. Aug. 2012.] http://www.engg.ksu.edu/chsr/outreach/tosnac/sites/midnitemine.html
[SPOKANE TRIBE OF INDIANS SURFACE WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. Spokane Tribal Commission. Resolution 2010-173. February 25, 2010] http://www.spokanetribe.com/upload/FCKeditor/Final%20Revised%20Water%20Quality%20Standards.pdf
[Spokane Tribe of Indians Airborne Radiological Surveys. EPA and Spokane Tribes. Sept. 2011] http://www.epa.gov/region10/pdf/sites/midnite_mine/aerial_survey_report_oct2011.pdf
[Trace metal concentrations in surface water of Lake Roosevelt. Scofeild, Pavlik-Kunkel.Supplemental Report January 1998 – March 2000. Lake Roosevelt Fisheries Evaluation Program, Department of Natural Resources, Spokane Tribe of Indians. Oct. 2007] http://www.lrf.org/Env/EnvReports/LR-TraceMetalsFinalOct2007.pdf
[Uranium Mining Poisons Native Americans. J.Gerritsen. Feb. 25th,  2009. Culture Change.org, 2009.] http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/336/65/
[USGS Watertable Data for Midnite Mine. Funded by Spokane Tribes and USGS co-op. Aug. 2012.]  http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?12433556
print sources
[Biosolids and Plants. Sally Brown, Ph.D, Associate Professor. University of Washington]  http://faculty.washington.edu/slb/docs/basics/Biosolids_and_PlantsNB.pdf
[Cleanup OK’d for uranium mine on Tribal land. B.Kramer. October 1, 2011. Spokesman Review, Feb.1st 2012.] http://shawlsociety.blogspot.com/
[Determination of Premining Geochemical Background and Delineation of Extent of Sediment Contamination in Blue Creek Downstream from Midnite Mine, Stevens County, Washington. 2008, Church, Stanley E.; Kirschner, Frederick E.; Choate, LaDonna M.; Lamothe, Paul J.; Budahn, James R.; Brown, Zoe Ann. USGS Scientific Investigations Report: 2007-5262. USGS, 2007]  http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/sir20075262
GDR and OSHA uranium hazard listings:
[Heavy Metal Transport and Behavior in the Lower Columbia river, USA.Johnson, Vernon. from: Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. Springer. Jan 1 2005. Springer Science,Business Media, Inc.]
[Midnite Mine Superfund Cleanup Plans. Brandon,Blase, Martin, Fernandez, Mellott. TOSNAC/TOSC. Jan.2006]
[Radioactive Remains The forgotten story of the Northwest’s only uranium mines. Warren Cornwall, Feb. 2008. Pacific NW] http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw/2004191779_pacificpuranium24.html
[Spokane Tribe members worked gladly in uranium mines. B. Kramer, June 5th, 2011. Spokesman Review.] http://shawlsociety.blogspot.com/2011/06/spokane-tribe-members-worked-gladly-in.html
video sources
[Democracy Now interview with Twa-Le Abrahamson. Goodman, Amy. DemocracyNow.org. KSPS.Uploaded by mediagrrl9 on Apr 22, 2009.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGvPits1uCI]
[The Midnite Mine. Ferguson, Jeff, in cooperation with SHAWL and SFCC photography Dept.uploaded by jfergusonphotos on Jun 11, 2008:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59TR_NXyZY0]
personal interview
[Richerson, Mike. Personal interview. Aug. 5th, 2012.]
Spokesman Review Photos here:
If you would like to help spread awareness or campaign for responsible EPA action, the S.H.A.W.L. Society in Wellpinit is a good place to start. The links I cite as sources above are also excellent sources of information.
SHAWL Society
P.O. Box 61
Wellpinit, WA 99040
Phone: 509.218.3654

2 comments on “Midnite Mine and Superfun Yellowcake”

  1. Casey, I really liked this article. I remember going by there with you. Sad story that needs to be told over and over again, so people do not forget about this.

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