Study May Explain High Cancer Rates on Wind River Reservation
- The Chemtrade sulfuric acid plant, which was opened in 1958 by another company, is still making its toxic brew.
Ongoing Health Study May Explain High Cancer Rates on Wind River Indian Reservation
November 05, 2012
On the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming, an ongoing community health study may finally have the data to back up community members' claims about high cancer rates, and is looking for the cause, as well.
The old Susquehanna-Western mill, located a few miles southwest of
Riverton, the ninth-most-populated city in Wyoming, began processing
uranium and vanadium ore in 1958, using sulfuric acid to extract the
elements from rock. The mill closed in 1963, but a sulfuric acid plant
is still in production on the site. When the mill shut down,
Susquehanna-Western left behind massive piles of contaminated materials, commonly known as tailings, for two decades. While finally removed in
the late 1980s, contamination persists.
The reservation's water supply runs through the former
Susquehanna-Western uranium mill site. Many of members of the Eastern
Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes who reside on the 2.2 million-acre
reservation opt to use piped-in water supplies instead of their wells to avoid further exposure to the toxins.
Director of The Rocky Mountain Tribal Epidemiology Center (RMTEC) Folo Akintan says despite the history, “there has never been a community health impact assessment” on the reservation.
The data analysis is still in-progress, but Akintan updated community members on her observations thus far in a public meeting held October
“Their fears and concerns about cancer are quite true, and I just
wanted to let them know that. I did not think that it's a fallacy or
it's a miss, and I will show them that in the statistics,” she said in a phone interview before the meeting.
Akintan gathered historical data from Indian Health Services, state
and national agencies, the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission,
and volunteers distributed surveys to community members in and around
the reservation to mine for current data. So far, she’s collected 367
surveys (two-thirds from American Indian, and a third from Caucasian
participants), enough to let her analyze the data within a 5 percent
margin of error. The goal of the study is to assess current and
long-term environmental risks and health issues and eventually develop
remediation techniques and policies to improve health in the
After the presentation, some community members expressed frustration
that the report was impersonal, although they admitted the
technicalities are necessary for federal agencies to take action to
remediate the issue. Community member Jolene Catron emphasized the need to make the report accessible to the community. Catron serves as the executive director of the Wind River Alliance, a cross-cultural, community-based organization dedicated to the health and protection of the Wind River watershed.
“Really the story of that pollution in the environment is ... all
about the community and environmental justice, so I think it’s important that the report present that—that it have community stories in it and
not just data,” Catron said.
Akintan embraced the criticism and reiterated that the data
collection is not in the final stages yet, and neither is the form of
the presentation. She added that it’s too early to draw connections
between what looks like high cancer rates and the uranium contamination. “To really say that there's a risk indicator and to really say that
there's a correlation or an association, we would have to wait. We
cannot emphatically say that right now, if we're going to keep it
scientific,” Akintan warned.
RMTEC will take another six months to complete data collection and
analysis. The final results will be presented in another public meeting. From there, RMTEC will strategize with the tribes regarding remediation strategies and the way forward.
Catron says that no matter what the final report concludes, education needs to be part of the outcome. She says many young people in the
community don’t know about the pollution, and the report needs to take
steps to address that problem.
“Legacy education is really important,” she said. “If you want a
community to really take ownership of pollution like this, and deal with it in a responsible and effective manner, for your children and
grandchildren, you have to understand what it is and the pathways that
it can take.”
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Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/ongoing-health-study-may-explain-high-cancer-rates-on-wind-river-indian-reservation-142251
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