Past Disasters Show Dangers of Uranium Mining Near the Grand Canyon

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment America

Washington, D.C. – Uranium mining has left a legacy of disastrous pollution in the West, 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 America entitled Grand Canyon at Risk: Uranium Mining Doesn’t Belong Near Our National Treasures.  

“Americans love the Grand Canyon,” said Anna Aurilio, Washington Director of Environment America. “We don’t want to let 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 streams contaminated with radioactive waste, 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 of dollars in cleanup bills.

“The drinking water of 25 million people in the Southwest could be jeopardized by uranium mining near the Grand Canyon,” Aurilio said. “The toxic legacy of uranium mining has already plagued thousands of people living in neighboring states with major health problems as a result of contaminated air and water, which has led to cancer, anemia, arthritis, and birth defects.” 

“The legacies of Mo Udall and Barry Goldwater, who both spent their careers trying to preserve the majesty of the Grand Canyon, are in jeopardy if this blatant attempt to harm the Canyon goes through.  That’s why there will be bipartisan support for eliminating this misguided provision. 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. 

“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.”

Public support for protecting the Grand Canyon is growing: 300,000 Americans, local tribal groups, 60 members of Congress, and the mayors of Los Angeles and Phoenix have joined the call to protect the area around the park from toxic mining. Water authorities in the Southwest have expressed concern about the threats posed by mining near important waterways.

The mining industry has staked more than 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 companies’ allies in Congress are trying to keep the area open to new mining. Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona included a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill which would block all protections for the area, threatening the canyon’s stunning landscape, families’ health, and even the livelihoods of local residents.

“We are grateful to Representative Pastor for offering an amendment to strike the Flake provision, to Representative Grijalva for his tireless championing of the Grand Canyon, and to all the Representatives who stood up for the canyon by voting against the Interior Appropriations bill in the House committee,” Aurilio said. “We urge our leaders to stand up for our national parks,” Aurilio added. “It’s time to stop uranium mining from turning the Grand Canyon into a toxic waste dump.”