I just read Emily Shoff’s March 7 column about the proposed uranium mill near Naturita. As the on-site engineer at Uravan from 1989 to 1994, I wish to point out a few corrections to her pleasant, but perhaps ill-informed, thoughts.
First, Ms. Shoff did an excellent job of crediting her source of information, The Telluride Watch. Unfortunately, her source, the “Telluride local newspaper,” as she terms it, apparently isn’t too concerned with accuracy. For instance:
• Uravan wasn’t a mine. It was a mill. Big difference.
• The cleanup at Uravan was funded by the owner, Union Carbide Corp., not by public tax dollars.
• One fear expressed in the article is that of windborne contamination. An understanding of potential pollutant vectors would help her understand how those issues are thoroughly addressed – and that Telluride isn’t directly downwind of Naturita.
One of my duties as the on-site engineer was to give tours of the Uravan facility to dignitaries, students and interested parties. A question that would inevitably come up is, “Aren’t you afraid to work here?” Upon clarification, the fear behind the question would usually come down to the questioner’s perception about radiation.
To put things in perspective, I would then ask them, “How many of you have ever flown?” Virtually every person.
So I’d then ask a follow-up question, “Who receives more biologically ionizing radiation – me, working here 2,000 hours a year, or you, taking a one-way flight from Denver to L. A.?” Puzzled looks would cross their faces, obviously not understanding the relevance. The answer: them, on just one two- to three-hour flight at 30,000 feet in the sky.
As with many fears, a little bit of digging will reveal the real issue. At Uravan, radiation was something we monitored. But it paled in comparison to our risk from driving to and from work. Had we so much as had one fatality, we would have wiped out the human health benefits that came from cleaning up the place.
And that was 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the extremely thorough and challenging regulatory oversight of such facilities has only increased, not decreased.
So am I concerned about health impacts in Telluride from a new mill near Naturita? Enough so that I’m completely confident to say such concerns have been thoroughly addressed by a rather tedious and extremely expensive regulatory oversight process.
On March 7, the Post Independent published a story titled “Slim chance for radioactive water from local drilling.” In spite of the platitudes offered by Mr. Neslin and Mr. Gunderson concerning the lack of radioactivity found in the water produced from gas wells in our region, there were other aspects of the article that are quite disturbing when given a closer look.
The constituents of produced water vary from dissolved solids such as corrosive salts, volatile organic compounds, known carcinogens such as benzene, napthalene, and toluene, and many heavy metals such as lead and mercury, for which the danger to human and animal health is well documented. And that’s not to mention naturally occurring radioactive material, which Mr. Gunderson assures us is not a problem in our area. Nonetheless, he does acknowledge it is produced, though it apparently only is found in evaporation ponds.
According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website, the oil and gas industry in Garfield County alone was responsible for the disposal of 30,251,606 barrels of produced water for the year 2010. Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC, states in the aforementioned article that three-fifths of that produced water is managed with the use of injection wells, one-fifth is managed with evaporation pits, and the remaining fifth is discharged into rivers and streams, in accordance with guidelines from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division.
One fifth of 30,251,606 is 6,050,321, and there are 42 gallons in a barrel. That means that in 2010, the oil and gas operators collectively dumped 254,113,490 gallons of toxic produced water into our rivers and streams.
You don’t need to be a hydrologist to understand the interconnectedness of watersheds or to see that any substance introduced into a local stream or creek, even the most remote unnamed seasonal drainage, must eventually, if it does not get put on a field first, find its way into the Colorado River where many communities, including my own, source their municipal water.
I saw four people fishing today on the Colorado near Silt. I wonder if they read that March 7 article.
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