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Uranium Contaminated Soil at Grand Canyon School District Playgrounds?

Putting an Old Dog to Rest…Hopefully

For years, there have been rumors, and concerns, about playground areas at the Grand Canyon School District, located inside the park, being contaminated with radioactive soil from old uranium mines in the area.

I talked with park Public Affairs Officer Maureen Oltrogge, and she said that an investigation is underway to determine if there is contaminated soil in the playground areas.  Oltrogge said the park has no records of any company dumping radioactive dirt there, so they’ve contracted with a geotechnical engineering company to test the area and make a final decision.  She said the test results should be in by the end of the year.

A source at the school district said they have no reason to believe the rumors, and they welcome the tests just to put everyone at ease.  As she put it, “we just want to an old dog to rest”.  The playing fields are being used, and will be until the test results are in.

See how jumpy people get when it comes to uranium, and stories of mining firms who walk away from their “digs” without cleaning up their messes?

The Orphan Mine

Fifty-some years ago, uranium mining began at a site located three miles from the park’s El Tovar Hotel on the south rim.  It operated under two firms until 1969, when it was closed.  The miners walked away and left their mess, and now the National Park Service is strapped with the task of cleaning up, which may cost taxpayers more than $15-million.

Talks between the National Park Service and the two major defense contractors who operated the mine have failed, leaving clean-up to the park service.  Oltregge told me they want that radioactive material removed as soon as possible and have begun the long process of getting it done.

In the meantime, the Orphan Superfund Mine sits all alone, fenced off with signs warning of dangerous radiation levels.  According to some sources, it still contaminates a creek that feeds the Colorado River.  There are signs along Horn creek warning the public not to drink from the creek because of possibly hazardous levels of radioisotopes.

Tech-Sym and Cotter Corp., subdivisions of DRS Technologies and General Atomics are, according to the park service, responsible for clean-up of the Orphan mine, but have reportedly refused to cooperate.  Since the mine falls under the Superfund law, the federal government has the power to hold both companies liable for the cost of returning the land to its original state.

It’s a shame this has to happen, really.  Both firms are reportedly doing quite well financially, and cleanup costs would probably come out of petty cash.  But then, there’s always the question of corporate responsibility, and who wants to be responsible when they can weasel out of it?

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Image:  www.inetours.com/…/ Tours/Grand_Canyon_7739.jpg




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