Community meeting urges health study, services for Spokane Tribe
Two new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff responsible for the Midnite Mine Superfund site on the Spokane Indian Reservation recently presented an overview of the background for the site and the cleanup at community meetings in Wellpinit and Spokane.
Others at the Spokane meeting advocated gathering data to improve health services and education for people experiencing after-effects of exposure to radiation.
Linda Meyer, EPA remedial project manager, and Kay Morrison, EPA community liaison, said they prepared the presentation partly for their own awareness and understanding.
They updated the EPA Midnite Mine Superfund website, which is at https://www.epa.gov/superfund/midnite-mine. It includes the background and information on cleanup activities, health and environment, updated reports, photos and videos, and more.
"The Newmont Mining Corporation, which is responsible for the cleanup, asked the EPA a year ago to change the background radiation level that determines the cleanup," said Linda.
"Based on technical analysis, we are not doing that," she said. "It took 12 years and much legal work to put the agreement in place. We have no reason to change the cleanup level."
Ricky Sherwood, Spokane Tribe Midnite Mine community liaison, said the 2019 spring through fall construction will move 2.1 million cubic yards to fill Pit #4 three-fourths full.
Brian Crossley, manager of the Spokane Tribe Water and Fish Program, said a new water treatment plant will reduce radioactivity in water and pipe it downhill beside Blue Creek into Lake Roosevelt.
Linda said that while those working on cleanup today wear protective clothing and are tested for radiation exposure, early miners were given no protective clothing and wore contaminated clothing home, and women were exposed by doing laundry.
Some at the meeting said the road, which was paved with mine rocks, has been cleaned up, but driveways were also made with mine rocks. Some also brought rocks into their homes to use for mantels and fireplaces.
A representative of the Indian Health Services (IHS) was at the Wellpinit meeting.
Carol Evans, chair, said the Tribal Council recently passed a resolution for there to be a health assessment.
Deb Abrahamson, who facilitated the Spokane meeting, said the Indian Health Service needs to share its data for a mortality study to help the tribe compete for funds for health care.
"There are a tremendous number of cancer-related deaths now. In the 1970s, young mothers who cleaned workers' clothes first got cancer and died. Many women also worked at the Sherwood mine," she said. "For 50 years, people had access to unfenced areas around the mine's open pits."
The SHAWL (Sovereignty, Health, Air, Water, Land) Society initiated community education with the EPA, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Health, Tribal Social Services and Tribal Education.
"We need an adequate database of the number who died of cancer, the number in treatment for cancer and the number diagnosed with cancer, so we can address the health needs of present and future generations," Deb said.
"Chronic exposure means our community has experienced horrendous health problems," she said. "It will compound in future generations because the half-life of uranium is thousands of years."
Kay knows the community wants to understand health impacts. She said that while the Center for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) analyzes effects of toxic substances on health and teaches people how to prevent exposure, it does not provide health services.
Deb is glad the EPA revamped the website to provide relevant information. She hopes Indian Health Services will eventually provide services and cancer education.
Tracey Morgan, who worked on a study by Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, reported that the study found a 46 percent rate of cancer on the reservation compared with 18 percent in the U.S. as a whole.
Kim Kreber of the Spokane Regional Health District told of a free mammogram program that also helps tribal members navigate the health care system.
Deb said the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 included the Spokane and other tribes that mined uranium in the Cold War era. There were more than 32,700 claimants from 1992 to 2017, but it ends in 2022.
"Some individuals received $150,000 payments, but it took tribes nine years to be included. When we were, they helped some former workers, but families who applied did not have information they needed to be eligible, because Indian Health Services records were confidential," she said.
After a suggestion that, with three universities at Riverpoint in Spokane collaborating on medical education, they might develop an innovative program, Luis Manriquez, clinical assistant professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said he is conversing with the tribe on developing health services with students.
In closing, Carol thanked SHAWL and the community for bringing concerns to the Tribe.
"Many were ignorant about having ore in their houses," she said. "We need to be vigilant and bring experts to do assessments of homes even now."
Regarding studies and surveys on causes of death, she pointed out someone with cancer may die of something else. Her father worked at the mill site and qualified for a Radiation Exposure Compensation Act benefit. He had cancer, but COPD was listed on his cause of death.
"We can't change the past. When the mine came, our parents had no place to work. We were fed because they worked there. They did not know what it would mean," she said. "Now we pay the price."
Sharing stories, as Carol did, is one way to gather data that may not be in records.
It's not easy, Deb said, because "people in pain do not want to talk about family members who passed. It may be painful, but it's important for future generations and our leaders."
For the Earth Day Vigil in April, she wanted to do an exhibit with faces of people who died of cancer, but few families responded.
Some don't share because they don't want to be a burden, but sharing can be a way to challenge injustice, bring health services and educate people, she said.
For information, contact Linda at 206-553-6636, email@example.com, or Ricky at 458-6586, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2019