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Hazards of uranium mining have been known for centuries

Native American uranium miners and the Trump budget, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  Robert Alvarez, 30 Mar 17, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  “…….The hazards of uranium mining have been known for centuries. As early as 1556, dust in the Ore Mountain (Erzgebirge) mines bordering Germany and what is now the Czech Republic was reported to have “corrosive qualities… it eats away the lungs and implants consumption in the body…” By 1879, researchers found that 75 percent of the miners in the Ore Mountains had died from lung cancer. By 1932, the Ore Mountain miners were receiving compensation for their cancers from the German government. Uranium mining was convincingly linked to lung cancer by dozens of epidemiological and animal studies by the late 1930s.

In 1942, Wilhelm C. Hueper, the founding director of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute, brought the European studies to light in the United States—concluding that radon gas was responsible for half of the deaths of European miners after 10 to 20 years of exposure. By this time, uranium had become a key element for the making of the first atomic weapons. Hueper’s superiors blocked him from further publication and discussion in this area; they told him that dissemination of such information was “not in the public interest.”

In fact, withholding information about workplace hazards was deeply embedded in the bureaucratic culture of the early nuclear weapons program. In 1994, the Energy Department made a previously secret document, written in the late 1940s, public. It crystallized the long-held rationale for keeping nuclear workers in the dark: “We can see the possibility of a shattering effect on the morale of the employees if they become aware that there was substantial reason to question the standards of safety under which they are working. In the hands of labor unions, the results of this study would add substance to demands for extra-hazardous pay.”

Kee Begay worked in the mines for 29 years and was dying of lung cancer when I first met him. “The mines were poor and not fit for human beings,” he told me. Begay also lost a son to cancer. “He was one of many children that used to play on the uranium piles during those years. We had a lot of uranium piles near our homes—just about 50 or 100 feet away or so. Can you imagine? Kids go out and play on those piles.”

In 1957, the US Public Health Service reported that the average radiation lung dose to Indian miners was 21 times higher than was allowed in the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons plants. In 1962, the Public Health Service revealed that radon exposure in the mines was statistically linked to lung cancer among US miners—at a rate comparable to what Heuper had warned about 20 years earlier.

Lung disease associated with radon exposure was “totally avoidable,” former chief health scientist for the AEC Merrill Eisenbud said in 1979. “The Atomic Energy Commission … is uniquely responsible for the death of many men who developed lung cancer as a result of the failure of the mine operators, who must also bear the blame, because they too had the information, and the Government should not have had to club them into ventilating their mines………..”http://thebulletin.org/native-american-uranium-miners-and-trump-budget10657?platform=hootsuite

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March 31, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, history, Reference, Uranium

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