Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
Prevention is the Only Cure
by Susan Howlett
Kawartha Community Midwives
I would like to make a presentation on behalf of Kawartha Community Midwives.
We are a group practice of Registered Midwives who service clients in a large area including Peterborough, Northumberland, Victoria and Haliburton Counties. We work with families who live in both ends of the uranium cycle, in the vicinity of the mines and tailing ponds, and living near or working in the reprocessing plant in Port Hope. The watersheds connect us all.|
As primary health care practitioners, we are deeply concerned about the serious potential health threats posed to the public from uranium exploration, mining, tailings, processing, and nuclear power plants in eastern Ontario. Furthermore, we see the end products of depleted uranium in bomb-casings and nuclear weapons as one of the most serious threats to humankind.
We would also like to take this opportunity to voice our dismay at the lack of government consultation or response to a call for the settling of Native land-claims on traditional lands. It is a human rights violation to be jailing leaders who have participated in peaceful protest, trying to be stewards of the land for future generations.
As health care practitioners, we would like to focus our presentation on health concerns related to the cycle of uranium mining; specifically the health effects on pregnant women and children.
Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable due to rapid cell division during physical growth.
In the 1950’s a British physician and epidemiologist, Dr. Alice Stewart established that children born to women who received even one abdominal x-ray during pregnancy were 40% more likely to suffer childhood cancer. This practice was discontinued.(Stewart A, Webb J, Giles De, Hewitt D. Malignant disease in Childhood and diagnostic irradiation in utero Lancet 1956;2:447 ; Stewart AM, Childhood cancers and competing causes of death. Leukaemia Research 1995;19:103–11).
The Center for Disease Control states:
“The human embryo and fetus are particularly sensitive to ionizing radiation, and the health consequences can be severe, even at radiation doses too low to immediately affect the mother. Such consequences can include growth retardation, malformations, impaired brain function, and cancer.”
They also listed failure to implant and miscarriages. (Center for Disease Control, Radiation Emergencies, Prenatal Radiation Exposure: A Fact Sheet for Physicians
In addition to rapid cell division during growth, children are more susceptible than adults because their organs are closer to the ground. A child receives a 10-50% higher dose of gamma ground radiation than an adult. Studies: pg 56, 1999)
( US National Council of Radiation Protection –NCRP 129 Recommended Screening Limits for Contaminated Surface Soil and Review of Factors Relevant to Site Specific Studies: pg 56, 1999)
This is an important factor when there has been soil contamination.
There are many sources of contamination throughout the uranium cycle, which can adversely affect the health of families for many generations to come. In the exploratory drilling stage, the Ontario Mining Act allows mining companies excavation of a thousand tons of material with no requirement for an environmental assessment or restoration of the land. Drill holes can contaminate the watershed and underground water aquifers that supply clean drinking water to communities. Disturbing the underground uranium ore releases it into the biosphere, where it changes in composition, releasing radioactive dust particles such as radon gas into the air. (Uranium Watch, Fact Sheet on Uranium Radioactivity and Human Health,Vol 1, No.1,Nov. 2007)
Seventy-five percent of uranium mines in Canada are open-pit mines. There is a well-established significant excess of mortality for uranium miners from cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung.(Report to the Ontario Compensation Board on the Ontario Uranium Mining Industry, Industrial Disease Standards Panel (ODP) IDSP Report No. 6 Toronto, Ontario February 1989)
The ore is then crushed and leached using large quantities of water. The remaining powder is treated to remove the uranium. The remaining by-products are dumped into tailing ponds. Tailing ponds contain up to 85 percent of radiological elements contained in the original uranium ore and remain active for many years to come. For example, radium-226 has a half- life of 1,600 years, and thorium-230 has a half-life of 75,400 years. Radon and its decay products can be distributed over large areas, depending on weather conditions and can be inhaled. (Dr. Sue Wareham, Former President, Medical Association for Prevention of War, “The Health Impacts of Nuclear Power”, Nuclear Power Forum, UNSW, October 18, 2006) It can also contaminate local food sources and traditional foods.
Due to the very long-term toxicity of tailing ponds, they need to be maintained for perpetuity. Ontario does not have a good track record. In Dec. 2005, The Ontario Auditor General identified, out of 5400 abandoned mine sites, 4000 are potentially hazardous to the public and at least 250 are “toxic waste dumps, leaching acidic, metals contaminated drainage into water-courses and aquifers”. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines was strongly criticized over their failure to protect the environment.
(2005 Annual Report of the Auditor General of Ontario)
In Elliot Lake area there have been over 30 breaches of tailings dams, contaminating the Serpent River 160 kilometers downstream.
Closer to home, the former Madawaska mine near Bancroft, which was decommissioned in 1982, left 4 million tones of uranium tailings at the surface. Two mining companies, El Nino Ventures, and Bancroft Uranium Inc. have recently staked out thousands of acres. Drilling has already begun at the Monmouth site. With the El Nino mine, there is potential of contamination to the Irondale River which links to the Burnt River and feeds many lakes in Haliburton, joining up with the Trent-Severn canals and lakes. In the case of the Bancroft mine, it has potential to contaminate the Crowe River watershed which also connects to the Trent River. In North Frontenac and Lanark Highlands townships, Frontenac Ventures has staked out 30,000 acres, which is at the headwaters of the Mississippi River watershed, which feeds into to the Ottawa River. Clean water is a fundamental basis of public health.
There are numerous studies worldwide about the health impacts on children caused by uranium mining throughout the mining cycle. With regards to uranium tailings, a study published in 1992 examined birth data for over 13,000 Navajo children born between 1964 and 1981 in Shiprock, New Mexico, in a region where there are many uranium tailings. The study reported a statistically significant increase in birth defects, stillbirths, and illnesses during infancy.( Shields,L M; Wiese,W H; Skipper,B J; et al.: Navajo birth outcomes in the Shiprock uranium mining area, in: Health Physics Vol.63, No.5, Nov.1992, p.542-551)
Further along in the uranium cycle, childhood disease clusters have been found in many communities in the vicinity of uranium processing facilities. According to a meta-analysis published in 2007 in the European Journal of Cancer Care, which reviewed studies representing 136 sites there was an increase in childhood leukemia near nuclear facilities. While the study showed an increase in the incidence of childhood leukaemia, it could not support a hypothesis to explain the excess. (P.J. Baker & D.G. Hoel, Meta-analysis of standardized incidence and mortality rates of childhood leukaemia in proximity to nuclear facilities, European Journal of Cancer Care, Vol 16 Issue 4 p 355-363, July 2007)
This pattern is being noted in many countries. Just to give a few examples:
-200% increase in leukemia in children of atomic workers. (Roman E. et al “Case-Control Study of Leukemia and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Among Children Aged 0-4 yrs. Living in West Berkshire and North Hampshire Health Districts” BMJ 1993 #306)
-287% increase in cancer incidence in children of nuclear workers who received internal radiation in England. (Sorahan T. Roberts PJ. “Childhood Cancer and Paternal Exposure to Ionizing Radiation: Preliminary Findings from the Oxford Survey of Childhood Cancers” American Journal of Industrial Medicine V23:343-354, 1993)
-500% increase in childhood leukemia in children visiting the beach once a week near the French nuclear reprocessing facility at La Hague
-760% increase in childhood leukemia if they ate local fish regularly
-345% increase in childhood leukemia associated with drinking well water from the vicinity of the nuclear facility.
(Viel JF. Pobel D. Incidence of Leukaemia in Young People Around the La Hague Nuclear Waste Reprocessing Plant: A Sensitivity Analysis” Statistics in Medicine, v14:2459-2472. 1995)
-1000% increase in leukemia incidence in children living near a nuclear reprocessing facility compared to children of the same age in the same area prior to the facility’s operation. (Haesman et al. “Childhood Leukemia in Northern Scotland.” Lancet, v 1:266. 1986)
In case of nuclear plant accidents, there are disastrous health effects.
-500% increase in thyroid cancer in Ukraine children
-200% increase in birth defects
-200% increase in spontaneous abortions
(Rupert J. “Illness Tied to Disaster Still on Rise.” The Washington Post. June 24, 1995. The reporter was quoting Britain’s Imperial Cancer Research Fund, The Ukrainian Health Ministry and the United Nations)
Three Mile Island:
-300-400% increase in lung cancer in the general population within the plume of the Three Mile Island accident releases
-600-700% increase in leukemia in the general population within the plume of Three Mile Island accident releases ( Wing S. Richardson D. et al. “A Reevaluation of Cancer Incidence Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant: The Collision of Evidence and Assumptions.” Environmental Health Perspectives, v 105, no 1 National Institutes of Health. Bethesda, Maryland. January 1997)
-50% increase in childhood cancer incidence the Three Mile Island area for each 10 millirem increase in radiation exposure per year (Hatch M. et al. “Background Gamma Radiation and Childhood Cancers Within Ten Miles of a US Nuclear Power Plant.” International Journal of Epidemiology, v 19, no3. 1990)
(The above statistics were compiled by Cindy Folkers and Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service-http://www.nirs.org/radiation/radchart.htm)
The final issue in the uranium cycle is its links with nuclear weapons- the world’s most dangerous weapons. Considering that 85 percent of Canada's uranium is exported, Canada plays a role in the spread of this destructive capability. It was Canadian uranium that was used for the A-Bomb. The human tragedy and horror that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is beyond description . I have personally visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, and the images of devastation and human suffering are forever seared in my mind. Depleted uranium is now being used in hard target weapons to increase penetration. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons internationally, this remains one of the most urgent threats to human health, and the survival of the planet earth.
In conclusion, the uranium cycle from beginning to end poses a serious threat to human health and has long-lasting environmental hazards, which are incompatible with sustainability. Infants and children are especially vulnerable.
As health care practitioners, we support the resolution of numerous Ontario municipalities in demanding a moratorium on uranium mining. The threat to human and environmental health posed by uranium cannot be reversed once unleashed. Prevention is the Only Cure.