Past Disasters Show Dangers of Uranium Mining Near the Grand Canyon

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Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center

Mesa – Uranium mining has left a legacy of disastrous pollution in Arizona, and now mining poses a risk to the Grand Canyon – one of our greatest national parks. Thousands of new mining claims threaten to destroy the canyon’s stunning landscape and pollute the Colorado River, according to a report released today by Environment Arizona entitled “Grand Canyon at Risk: Uranium Mining Doesn’t Belong Near Our National Treasures.”

“Americans love the Grand Canyon,” said Bret Fanshaw of Environment Arizona. “We don’t want to let toxic uranium mining trash our national treasure.”

The canyon already bears the scars of past mining activity, as the report shows. Hikers in Grand Canyon National Park cannot drink the water from four different radioactively contaminated streams, including one flowing down the canyon’s south rim near the abandoned Orphan Mine – located only a few steps away from a popular vista point. Mining around the canyon has left a toxic trail of dangerously radioactive soil, polluted aquifers, and saddled taxpayers with millions in cleanup costs.

“The drinking water of millions of people in Phoenix, Tucson and other parts of the Southwest could be jeopardized by uranium mining,” Fanshaw said. “Thousands of people living in neighboring states already suffer from major health problems as a result of contaminated air and water, which has led to cancer, anemia, arthritis, and birth defects.”

Public support for protecting the Grand Canyon is growing: 300,000 Americans, local tribal groups, 60 members of Congress, and Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix have joined the call to protect the area around the park from toxic mining. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has expressed concern about the threats posed to drinking water for millions of Nevada residents.

“The Colorado River is important to millions of people in several states, and threatening them with pollution and mining waste so a few big companies can send their profits overseas is not leadership,” said Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. “The future of the Grand Canyon is too important to sell to the highest bidder.”

The mining industry has staked over a thousand mining claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced a plan to protect one million acres around the canyon from new mining claims for 20 years, but the mining industry’s allies in Congress are trying to keep the area open to new mining. Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona put forth a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill that would block all protections for the area, threatening the canyon’s stunning landscape, families’ health, and even the livelihoods of local residents.

“Any jobs created by mining the designated areas will be lost tenfold by the destruction to the tourist industry this harmful policy will initiate,” said Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor.

“We are grateful to Arizona Representatives Grijalva and Pastor for their leadership in supporting Grand Canyon protections so that this natural wonder can remain spectacular for generations to come,” Fanshaw said, “We urge the rest of our delegation to stand up for our national treasure and stop uranium mining from turning the Grand Canyon into a toxic waste dump.”