By Jessica Swarner
4 February 2016
(Cronkite News) – Longtime Sanders, Arizona, resident Wayne Lynch was told in July that the water on his ranch contained dangerously high amounts of uranium, yet he is still using it.
“There’s no other water source we have,” Lynch said in late January. “There’s no other well that they could tap in to.”
Lynch said the problem extends to the Sanders community, including nearby schools, which have no choice but to use contaminated wells.
“People are always getting cancer,” he said, naming his mother, an aunt and a grandmother among those who have been diagnosed with the disease.
Lynch’s case was just one of the stories brought to Washington last week by Clean Up the Mines, a group that highlights the detrimental effects of abandoned uranium mines, especially those on and near reservations.
According to government data, there are about 15,000 uranium mines in the West, with 75 percent of those on federal or tribal lands.
Clean Up the Mines was in the District for a week, working to spread awareness of what it calls an environmental crisis. That included a Thursday, January 28 protest outside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) building.
The group demanded that the federal agency conduct studies on radiation levels in water supplies and move to clean up uranium waste. Group members met with about 10 EPA officials after their protest.
“They listened to our frustrations,” said Tommy Rock, a Navajo and member of Diné No Nukes who was in Washington D.C. for the protests.
“They didn’t really say much—they just listened to us,” he said.
It was Rock, a doctoral candidate in environmental sciences at Northern Arizona University, who tested the water near Sanders and found uranium levels of 47 parts per billion—well above the legal limit of 30 parts per billion.
The Sanders Unified School District draws water from wells where uranium levels have been tested at 37 parts per billion—forcing the district to rely on bottled water for its offices, schools and teacher housing, said interim Superintendent Dan Hute.
“There is uranium. It is over the limit. It’s been a mess,” Hute said. [more]