SD medical association unanimously against uranium mining in Hills

CHAMBERLAIN — The South Dakota State Medical Association has come out in opposition of uranium mining in the Black Hills in direct response to Powertech USA’s proposed in situ leach (ISL) uranium mining project in Fall River County, making it the second statewide medical association to publicly oppose uranium mining in response to a Powertech ISL uranium mining proposal in the past six years.

At a recent meeting held in Chamberlain, the SDSMA’s 78-member Council of Physicians unanimously voted to support a petition opposing not only Powertech’s proposed Dewey-Burdock ISL uranium mining project in the Southern Hills, but uranium mining of any type in the Black Hills Area.

“The vote was held after a careful and thoughtful discussion,” SDSMA President Dr. Daniel Heinemann said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon. “The health and safety of the public is of paramount concern to the SDSMA when considering issues such as this.”

Alternate SDSMA councilor and former District 9 (Black Hills Area) representative Dr. Kevin Weiland brought the petition, drafted by retired Deadwood-area physician Dr. Don Kelley, before the group.

The petition cited the following reasons for opposition of uranium mining in the Black Hills, among others:

• The “real possibility of underground water-supply contamination with radionuclides and other heavy metals exists” due to potential communication between the mined Inyan Kara aquifer and other aquifers.

• Records of other ISL uranium mines detailing “frequent unanticipated consequences due to leaks and excursions of mining fluids.”

• The acceptance by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that “the restoration of an ISL-mined aquifer to pre-mining water quality is … an impossibility.”

• The risk that “routine features of such mines, such as settling ponds and surface spraying of treated water,” could result in “ground and atmospheric contamination with radioactive and otherwise toxic elements.”

• The potential for bioaccumulation of these toxic elements in crops and grazing livestock.

• The notion that “Any (underscore SDSMA’s) increase in human radiation exposure above background levels is believed to be associated with a linearly increased risk of adverse health consequences, including increased incidence of cancer, birth defects, and other diseases.”

• The group’s assertion that “the loss of large volumes of water in such mining operations is not in the public interest” when “considering the projected future scarcity of uncontaminated fresh water in our semi-arid region.”

In a Sept. 23 letter to Dr. Kelley thanking him for drafting the proposal, Dr. Heinemann stated that “research indicates that in areas where uranium mining has been performed in the past there is a documented increase of testicular and ovarian cancer, leukemia, childhood bone cancer, miscarriages, infant death, congenital defects, genetic abnormalities and learning disorders in the population living near the site.”

“That someone can come in that has never mined, and doesn’t have any proof that what they can do is going to be safe — sort of like the asbestos industry did … we just don’t want to see this happen,” Weiland said in a Monday afternoon interview with the Pioneer. “We don’t want to see some company come in and start profiting at the risk of our health.”

The Colorado Medical Society, the largest physician-based organization in the state, came out in opposition of ISL and open-pit uranium mining in November, 2007 in direct response to Powertech USA’s proposed “Centennial” ISL uranium mining project in Weld County, Colo., which has since stalled due to overwhelming opposition by a multitude of organizations in the state.

Weiland said the SDSMA is hoping to work with the Colorado Medical Society to formally present a collaborative proposal in opposition of uranium mining “period, not just in the Black Hills” to the American Medical Association.

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