Government Study: Elevated Uranium Levels in Grand Canyon's Watershed

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7466

Government Study: Elevated Uranium Levels in Grand Canyon's Watershed

Exploration and Mining Sites Consistently Exceed Background Levels

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK - A series of studies
released today by the United States Geological Survey show elevated
uranium levels in wells, springs, and soil in and around uranium
exploration and mining sites within the watershed feeding Grand Canyon
National Park and the Colorado River. The agency conducted the
monitoring to provide information for an environmental impact statement
that is analyzing a proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal that would
protect nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon
National Park from future mining activities.

reports demonstrate unequivocally that uranium mining should not
proceed in these environmentally sensitive lands," said Stacey Hamburg
of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "Contaminated lands and
waters around the Grand Canyon are not what we want for the future of
northern Arizona. Cleaning up contaminated sites should be the
government's first priority."

Elevated uranium
levels consistently exceed natural background levels in and around
exploration and old mining sites - sometimes, as in the case of the
Kanab North mine, by as much as 10 times. Elevated uranium levels were
also detected near the old "Hack" uranium-mine complex, which the
Bureau of Land Management actively promotes on its Web site as a model of good mine reclamation (see video here).
Reclaimed in the 1980s, the mines are located in Hack Canyon, a
tributary to Kanab Creek and the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.

mining has already contaminated lands and waters in and around Grand
Canyon, and today's research confirms that new uranium mining would
threaten aquifers that feed Grand Canyon's springs, the Colorado River,
and nearly 100 species of concern," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center
for Biological Diversity. "These risks aren't worth taking - and
they're risks neither the government nor industry can guarantee

Elevated uranium levels were also
detected at another nearby old mine that the Bureau has said it will
allow to reopen without updating 1980s-era federal environmental
reviews. The first such opening, of Denison Mines' Arizona 1 mine,
provoked a lawsuit in November from conservation groups seeking updated reviews.

springs and five wells exhibited dissolved uranium concentrations
greater than the Environmental Protection Agency maximum for drinking
water; hydrogeologists have warned that new mining could deplete and
pollute water in aquifers and connected springs. Today's report
concludes that: "Uranium mining within the watershed may increase the
amount of radioactive materials and heavy metals in the surface water
and groundwater flowing into Grand Canyon National Park and the
Colorado River, and deep mining activities may increase mobilization of
uranium through the rock strata into the aquifers. In addition, waste
rock and ore from mined areas may be transported away from the mines by
wind and runoff."

"The USGS research confirms that
mining uranium within Grand Canyon watersheds risks permanently
polluting waning water supplies for 25 million people and arid
ecosystems. There are some places where mining should not occur, and
the Grand Canyon is one of them," said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity sued
the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for illegally withholding public
records relating to uranium mines immediately north of Grand Canyon
National Park. The Bureau is withholding the vast majority of eight
linear feet of responsive records despite directives from the Obama
administration requiring the agency to respond to information requests
"promptly and in a spirit of cooperation" and to adopt a "presumption
of disclosure" (see Obama's Freedom of Information Act memo to federal
agencies here).

All of today's reports can be downloaded here:

Summary of Research Findings (From USGS)

•       The area proposed for withdrawal is estimated to contain about 163,000 tons (about 326 million pounds) of uranium oxide (U3O8),
which is about 12 percent of the estimated total undiscovered uranium
in northern Arizona (1.3 million tons or 2.6 billion pounds). For
comparison, the United States consumes about 27,550 tons (55 million
pounds) of uranium oxide each year in its reactors; most of it comes
from Canada, Australia, and Russia.

     Soil and sediment samples were analyzed for six sites that
experienced various levels of uranium mining in Kanab Creek area north
of Grand Canyon National Park, including mined and reclaimed sites,
mined sites currently on standby, and sites that were exploratory
drilled but not mined. Uranium and arsenic were two elements
consistently detected in the areas disturbed by mining in values above
natural background levels.

 Analysis of historical water-quality data for more than 1,000 water
samples from 428 sites in northern Arizona shows that dissolved uranium
concentrations in areas without mining were generally similar to those
with active or reclaimed mines. Sixty-six percent of the sampled sites
showed low dissolved uranium concentrations (less than 5 parts per
billion). Ninety-five percent of the sampled sites had dissolved
uranium levels of less than 30 parts per billion, the Environmental
Protection Agency maximum for drinking water.

     Samples from 15 springs and 5 wells exhibited dissolved uranium
concentrations greater than the Environmental Protection Agency maximum
for drinking water. These springs and wells are close to or in direct
contact with mineralized ore bodies, and concentration levels are
related to natural processes, mining, or a combination of both factors.

•       Almost 100 plants and animals
identified by the State of Arizona or other land managers as species of
concern inhabit the area proposed for withdrawal. Because uranium and
its byproducts such as radon can affect survival, growth, and
reproduction of plants and animals, USGS scientists identified exposure
pathways (for example, ingestion or inhalation) for these species of


in uranium prices have caused thousands of new uranium claims, dozens
of proposed exploration drilling projects, and proposals to reopen old
uranium mines adjacent to the Grand Canyon. Renewed uranium development
threatens to degrade wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and
iconic landscapes bordering the park; it also threatens to deplete and
contaminate aquifers that discharge into Grand Canyon National Park and
the Colorado River. The Park Service warns against drinking from
several creeks in the canyon which exhibit elevated uranium levels in
the wake of past uranium mining.

These threats have provoked litigation; legislation; and public protests
and statements of concern and opposition from scientists, city
officials, county officials - including from Coconino County - former
Governor Janet Napolitano, state representatives, the Navajo Nation,
and the Kaibab Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes, the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern
Nevada Water Authority, among others. Polling conducted by Public
Opinion Strategies shows overwhelming public support for withdrawing
from mineral entry the lands near Grand Canyon; Arizonans support
protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining by a two-to-one

The Interior Department in July 2009 enacted a land segregation order, now in force, and proposed a 20-year mineral withdrawal,
which is now being analyzed, for one million acres of public land
surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Both measures prohibit new
mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for
which valid existing rights have not been established. The Bureau of
Land Management has failed to produce any documents demonstrating the
establishment of valid existing rights for the Arizona 1 mine or other
mines around Grand Canyon. The United States Geological Survey's
monitoring results that were released today are to inform the
aforementioned analysis of the proposed mineral withdrawal.


Share This Article

More in: