Archive for June 5th, 2011

A Secret Weapon for Fighting Climate Change: Empowering Women

A Secret Weapon for Fighting Climate Change: Empowering Women

Posted 02 June 2011, by Sigourney Weaver, Huffington Post,

Over the past month, I have been speaking to women in Canada and the American Midwest about a powerful force that discriminates against us. I am not talking about the glass ceiling or sexists bosses, although we all know those still exist. I am talking about climate change.

You might think that a force as sweeping as global warming would be an equal opportunity threat: that it would endanger men and women alike. But the fact is climate change exacts a heavier toll on women.

Women produce up to 80 percent of the food in the developing world. Drought and unpredictable rains brought on by climate change will make this work far more precarious. Women will have to labor harder and longer to ensure their families have food, fuel, and water.

Our role as caretakers puts us at even greater risk in times of extreme weather. Studies have found that women are 14 times more likely to die as a result of storms and other extreme weather than men.

Fourteen times! Why? Because women often look after the children, the elderly, and the sick, and that means we have less mobility in a flood or wildfire.

The good news is that we can help women change this.

If you ask people the tools we need to stop climate change, most talk about wind and solar energy, fuel efficient cars, and biofuels. But there is another solution that is not so widely known: empowering women.

Right now, hundreds of millions of women are denied basic education, are married off too young, or lack access to adequate health care. The leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is medical complications from pregnancy.

Most women and girls want more control over how and when they build their families, and most development organizations support that aim. Now researchers also recognize that what is good for women is also good for the planet.

Two groundbreaking studies, one from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and one from the Futures Group, found that simply by meeting women’s existing needs for voluntary family planning, we could reduce carbon emissions by between 8 and 15 percent.

That is the equivalent of stopping all deforestation today.

This is an extraordinary proposition. Empowering women to make critical decisions in their own lives can help solve the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time.

This opportunity exists not only in developing nations, but here in America as well. Millions of women in the U.S. lack access to family planning. Giving them and their sisters around the world the education and health care they want will make enormous improvements in their lives.

This is a very promising finding. But in no way does empowerment take the place of government action on climate change. Developed nations in particular must do our part. We have released the lion’s share of global warming pollution into the atmosphere. It is our moral obligation to power our economies in cleaner, safer ways.

Yet in the face of so urgent a crisis, we must fight with every weapon we have. Improving women’s lives while curbing emissions offers another arrow in our quiver.

So in addition to what you may already be doing to protect the environment, I encourage you to also support organizations that empower and educate women here and around the globe.

And tell your lawmakers that the government’s paralysis on climate change must end. It’s embarrassing how many members of Congress continue to deny the existence of global warming, and it’s shocking how many potential candidates for the 2012 presidential race have retracted their previous support of climate action. As some are saying in the media, these deniers are the new birthers.

To break through this willful ignorance, we must press our leaders in government and business to change how we produce energy and transport ourselves. Yet at the same time, we can also engage the world’s women as a potent force of change.

Water walkers head to Lake Superior


Water walkers head to Lake Superior

Group crosses U.S. border carrying copper pail of water from Hudson Bay


Posted  04 June 2011, by Staff, The Journal (International Falls),

In an effort to raise awareness of the need to protect the Earth’s water supply, participants of the northern division of the 2011 Mother Earth Water Walk will walk about 982,800 footsteps and travel by train 1,700 kilometers carrying water from Hudson Bay in a copper pail to be dumped into Lake Superior.

Four walkers entered the United States at about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday at International Falls. The walk is intended to raise awareness of the need to take care of the water and to help Mother Earth survive, according to organizers.

Organizers said the walk calls attention to the sacred gift of water — the source of all life, and the walk unites all the waters of Mother Earth.

Water was gathered in copper pails from the four directions — the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Bay — and is being carried by Anishinabe grandmothers and women to the shore of Lake Superior at Bad River, Wis., where the buckets will be poured into the lake in a ceremony June 12.

Members of the northern division walkers, who started May 21 in Churchill, Manitoba, headed east on Highway 53 Thursday. Other divisions of walkers started in Olympia, Wash., April 10, Gulfport, Miss., April 20, and Machias, Maine, May 7.

As givers of life, women who are taking turns walking, are responsible for protecting and carrying the water, according to organizers.

For more information on the walk, see the website at

Hmong Declaration on the Right to Development, Security and Freedoms


Hmong Declaration on the Right to Development, Security and Freedoms

Posted 16 May 2011, by Staff, Environment News Service, World-Wire,

NEW YORK, NY, May 16, 2011, –/WORLD-WIRE/– Today, the International Fund for Hmong Development announced the Hmong Declaration for rights recognition, the right to be independent, the right to exist and the right to remain free from persecution. The Hmong people have called for international intervention, support and assistance for development. They have also asked for an international conference to end a long history of violence as well as assistance to achieve peace under the supervision of the international community and organizations.

The Hmong People,

Affirmed to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Millennium Declaration and international human rights law,

Experiencing the situation of national, regional and international turmoil and armed conflicts causing destruction to Hmong homeland and properties, loss of lives, displacement, suffering and sorrow,

Recognizing the historic conditions of suppression, persecution, force assimilation and genocide,

Recognizing the conditions of children being threatened, abducted, tortured, raped or killed,

Recognizing the conditions of on-going atrocities and war crimes in an internal conflict not of international character,

Recognizing the conditions of discrimination, economic marginalization and confiscation of properties,

Recognizing the conditions of involuntary or enforce disappearances and held without trial,

Recognizing the conditions of forced deportation of internationally recognized refugees despite international appealed,

Recognizing the conditions of terrorizing, killings, threatening and by the use of force against peaceful demonstrators,

Express the sense of the above situations be constituted as grave violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Express the sense of the above situations as matter of urgency and required international intervention,

Resolved and solemnly proclaims of the following as Hmong Declaration on the Right to Development, Security and Freedoms in mutual respect and understanding:

Article 1
Hmong people have the right to exercise the right to self-determination in accordance to and in conformity with international law.
Article 2
Economic, Social, and Cultural Development
Hmong people have the right to freely determine their political status and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development in accordance to international declarations and rights.

Article 3
Development of Self-government
Hmong people have the right to develop self-government, establish jurisdiction and institutions to govern territories and lands which they have occupied or inhabited.

Article 4
Development is an inalienable Right
The Right to Development is an inalienable and universal human right; Hmong people shall have this same right.

Article 5
Boundaries and Natural Wealth
Hmong people have the right to defined boundaries, territories or lands and to possess natural wealth and resources to be used for their own development.

Article 6
National Identity
Hmong people have the right to separately declare their race or national identity in territories or lands in which they occupied or inhabited without prohibition or restriction.

Article 7
Freedom of Expression
Hmong people have the right to freedom of expression on any issues or matters which pertains to them in writing or in speech, in public or in private.

Article 8
Freedom of Association and Assembly
Hmong people have the right to freedom of association and assembly to formulate doctrines, beliefs, political or civil agendas.

Article 9
Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
Hmong people have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and be able to worship, teach, practice and in observance freely.

Article 10
Freedom of Movement
Hmong people have the right to freedom of movement in local, national and international traveling in promoting freedoms, human rights, peace and non-violence or on security issues of concern to individuals, group or race.

Article 11
Religious Freedom
Hmong people, as individuals or as a group, have the right not to be forced to confess to or renounce their faith on the basis of religious freedom.

Article 12
Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Hmong people, as individuals or as a group, have the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 13
Involuntary or Enforced Disappearances
Hmong people, as individuals or as a group, have the right not to be subjected to involuntary or enforce disappearances.

Article 14
Extrajudicial Killings
Hmong people, individuals or as group, shall not be subjected to extrajudicial executions, summary executions, arbitrary arrest or detentions without due process.

Article 15
Right to Defend and Protect
Hmong people have the right to acquire the necessary means to defend and protect itself from State acts of aggression, invasion or attacks from the use of military forces as to cause serious harms or destruction to their properties, individuals, group or race.

Article 16
Peace and Security
Hmong people have the right to peace and security as a person, group or race.

Article 17
The Court of Justice
Hmong people reserved the right to indict those responsible for genocide and war crimes in an International Court of justice.

Article 18
Hmong people have the right not be subjected to any forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, language, religion or belief.

Article 19
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Hmong people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in accordance to their beliefs, principles or practices.

Article 20
To be Independent
Hmong people have the right to be independent, to live as such, preserve their culture, heritage, to enjoy their ways of life and traditional ways of up-bringing.

Article 21
Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity and Freedoms of Choice
Hmong people will adhere, promote to the principle of peace, equal rights, equal opportunity, and freedoms of choice.

To this end,

In the spirit of friendly relations among peoples, nations and States, the Hmong people of Asia Region urges for international recognition, support, co-operation, and assistance in all elements contained and expressed in this Declaration.

For more information visit the International Fund for Hmong Development

Seng Xiong
Hmong International Political Affairs Division
Tel: (646) 290 – 5005
New York, New York 10022
Fax: (646) 290 – 5001

Copyright © 2011, World-Wire. All rights reserved.
Issuers of news releases and not World-Wire are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
World-Wire is a resource provided by Environment News Service

‘I watch them die, young and old.’

“I watch them die, young and old.”

Posted 05 June 2011, by Becky Kramer, Spokane Spokesman-Review,

Members of the Spokane Tribe worked gladly in the uranium mines on their land. Now they fear radiation from the mines is killing them. The radiation is from the Northwest’s only open-pit uranium mines – an all-but- forgotten chapter of Washington’s Cold War history.

Uranium ore was blasted out of the Spokane Reservation’s arid hillsides and sold to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The truckloads of radioactive material that rumbled daily through the reservation helped build the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The mines closed 30 years ago, but they’ve left a complex legacy of pride, patriotism and radioactive pollution on the 157,000-acre reservation west of Spokane.

Spokane Tribe members worked gladly in uranium mines

Now they fear radiation from the mines is killing them

When there’s a funeral on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Harold Campbell puts on his grave-digging hat, collects his tools and heads to the cemetery.

Over the past 30 years, the volunteer gravedigger has helped prepare the final resting spots for hundreds of the tribe’s members. Death is a familiar presence to Campbell, who sits with grieving families and blesses burial plots with the fragrant smoke of sage and sweetgrass. Yet one aspect troubles him: Too many Spokane Indians die from cancer.

“I watch them die, young and old,” Campbell said. “I think it’s caused by the radiation.”

The radiation is from the Northwest’s only open-pit uranium mines – an all-but- forgotten chapter of Washington’s Cold War history. Uranium ore was blasted out of the Spokane Reservation’s arid hillsides and sold to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The truckloads of radioactive material that rumbled daily through the reservation helped build the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The mines closed 30 years ago, but they’ve left a complex legacy of pride, patriotism and radioactive pollution on the 157,000-acre reservation west of Spokane.

After uranium deposits were discovered in the 1950s, entire families drew paychecks from the mines. The work seemed part of a greater cause, a strike against communism. And it brought a flash of prosperity to the impoverished reservation through steady paychecks and mining royalties.

But now there are troubling questions. Many workers labored without adequate safety gear. They brought home dust on their clothing, exposing their families to radiation and heavy metals. Uncovered ore trucks spilled radioactive rock, creating “hot spots” along the highway bisecting the reservation.

With each new cancer diagnosis, people wonder: Is it from the radiation?

It’s a haunting question. Bob Brisbois, the tribe’s executive director, lost five members of his extended family to cancer in a single year.

“Where did I get this cancer from? I never smoked,” Brisbois recalls his mother saying before she died of colon and bone cancer. “I would like to know where I got all this.”

Brisbois’ 40-year-old nephew had the same question. “He swam in the Spokane River below the mine,” Brisbois said. “He ate the roots and berries and wild game.” The nephew died last year of cancer that started in his bladder and spread throughout his body.

An epidemiology study might provide some answers. The Spokane Tribe teamed up with the Washington Department of Health and the Northwest Indian Health Board to track cancer rates among the tribe’s 2,700 members. Study results are pending. Meanwhile, 33 million tons of radioactive waste rock and ore remain at the Midnite Mine site, the largest of the two uranium mines on the reservation. The Midnite Mine, now a Superfund site, has been closed since the early 1980s, when uranium prices plunged.

Three years ago, a federal judge ordered one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates, Newmont Mining Corp., to pay its share of the $152 million in cleanup costs at the Midnite Mine. Yet little work has taken place on the ground.

The forgotten aspect of the Spokane Tribe’s role in the Cold War troubles Deb Abrahamson, a tribal activist who formed the SHAWL Society to advocate for cleanup of radioactive waste.

Billions of dollars have been spent on cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which regularly makes national news, she said. But Abrahamson said few people outside the Spokane Reservation know about the Midnite Mine, or that the radioactive legacy of the U.S.-Soviet arms race is still poisoning the tribe’s land and water.

Without the Atomic Energy Commission’s involvement, the uranium mines wouldn’t have been built.

“They needed that uranium. They needed it for the Cold War. We, the people, were expendable,” said Clyde Lynn, a former uranium worker. “That was the attitude of the U.S. government.”

It’s a tarnished end to a discovery that began with so much excitement.

‘Uranium fever’ began in 1954

One night in 1954, twin brothers Jim and John LeBret were prospecting on the Spokane Reservation with a Geiger counter and mineral light. Shortly after midnight, their Geiger counter roared to life. On Spokane Mountain, they had discovered rocks with a fluorescent green glow.

The brothers, members of the Spokane Tribe, staked the first uranium claim on the reservation. By the end of that year, the Midnite Mine shipped its first load of uranium ore to a Salt Lake City processing plant.

It was the beginning of “uranium fever” on the reservation.

Nationwide, thousands of prospectors hoped to strike it rich. The Atomic Energy Commission was offering lucrative contracts to jump-start a uranium industry in the United States. Domestic supplies were needed for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The largest uranium deposits were discovered on the Colorado Plateau of the Southwest, including the Navajo Nation, where more than 1,000 mines were built. The Inland Northwest also got caught up in the excitement.

“An atomic age of opportunity has dawned for the Spokane Indians,” decreed a Spokane Chronicle article. By the next spring, “dozens of Spokane people had purchased Geiger counters and spent the weekends trotting over the hills hunting new finds,” according to The Spokesman-Review.

Uranium was worthless in the late 1800s when members of the tribe were moved from their homelands along the Spokane River to the reservation. By the 1950s, a 55-gallon barrel of uranium oxide was selling for $32,000.

The LeBret brothers and their partners formed Midnite Mines Inc. They brought in Newmont Mining Corp. to create Dawn Mining, the entity that operated the mine. Newmont had a controlling interest in Dawn, and at one point, Dawn’s uranium sales contributed $1 million annually to Newmont’s dividends.

Phelps Dodge opened a second uranium mine on the reservation, the Sherwood Mine, through its Western Nuclear subsidiary.

In the early days, the U.S. government bought all the uranium ore through the Atomic Energy Commission. Later, uranium from the Spokane Reservation was sold to the energy industry for use in nuclear power plants.

Uranium ore and radioactive autunite crystals became curiosity pieces and collector’s items. One Spokane stockbroker kept a large chunk of uranium ore in his display window, until the Atomic Energy Commission ordered it removed.

Some thought the yellow-green crystals had medicinal value. Clyde Lynn’s grandmother kept a 6-inch-long crystal in a suitcase under her bed. She died of cervical cancer.

Workers thought ore was benign

For nearly three decades, uranium was a booming industry on the reservation. At its height, about 500 people drew paychecks from the mines and their ore-processing facilities.

Connie LeBret was hired at the Midnite Mine in her 20s. After the dust settled from blasting in the open-pit mine, she’d head out on foot with a Geiger counter to measure the radioactivity of the pulverized rock. A front-end loader followed to scoop up the radioactive ore.

“The driver would wait for me to show him where to dig. … Sometimes the needle would go off the meter,” said LeBret, 56. “We would give them a hand signal that it was the good stuff.”

“At the time, we didn’t know it wasn’t ‘good stuff,’ ” interjected her husband, Tracy LeBret, a distant cousin of Jim and John LeBret who also worked at the mine. He thought the apple-green ore looked like kryptonite, the fictitious radioactive rock from Superman’s home planet.

Most workers considered the ore benign. Managers reinforced that message, the couple said. Neither of them wore protective gear beyond hard hats, safety glasses and steel-toed boots.

Aside from logging, uranium mining was the only steady work on the reservation, said Connie LeBret, whose father and brothers also worked in the industry.

“A lot of people worked at those mines,” she said. “It was really a good time, because everyone had a job and had money to do things.”

Some of the tribe’s elders have fond memories of the days of full employment, her husband said. Not him.

Several years after Connie LeBret left the Midnite Mine, a red spot appeared on her knuckle. It was the first symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that several of her siblings also developed. Symptoms include swollen knuckles, painful joints and difficulty walking.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is believed to have both hereditary and environmental contributors. Connie LeBret wonders if radiation or heavy metals played a role.

LeBret’s younger brother, Randy Abrahamson, worked at both the Midnite and Sherwood mines. (He and his sister are distantly related to Deb Abrahamson, the tribal activist.) His former wife shook out his dusty work clothes before putting them in the wash.

Abrahamson, 51, is healthy, but he lost a daughter, 8-year-old Rachel, to a brain tumor. Eighteen months ago, his youngest son, Dillon, was also diagnosed with a brain tumor. Dillon, now 9, had surgery to remove part of the tumor. He started treatment again this spring to shrink the remaining mass, which had begun growing again, said Rebecca Witty, Dillon’s mother and Abrahamson’s second wife.

“We pray every day,” said Abrahamson, who wonders if the tumors are related to his past work at the mines.

“I wish we’d had more knowledge and had taken preventive action,” he said. “We could have worn jumpsuits and protection. We could have showered before going home to our families.

“There’s too much illness in this little community,” Abrahamson added. “I know there’s something going on.”

Clyde Lynn, 81, spent most of his career as a teacher and a counselor. But in 1981, when he was out of work, Lynn took an employee benefits job with Western Nuclear, the Phelps Dodge subsidiary that ran the Sherwood Mine.

He was grateful for the paycheck. But the safety lapses he observed appall him now.

“I never saw people wearing masks,” Lynn said. “Our safety training was on how to put out fires, or the importance of wearing hard hats. It was never on radioactive exposure.”

The ore was crushed and concentrated into uranium oxide through chemical processing. Uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” was stored in vats and funneled into 55-gallon barrels. When the uranium oxide stuck to the funnels, workers would scrape out the yellowcake by hand. The management’s attitude, Lynn said, was “Aw, there’s nothing wrong with this stuff.”

Uranium was part of daily life on the reservation. People in their 40s recall watching ore trucks rumble past as they waited for the school bus.

Campbell, the gravedigger, spent his early years in Uranium City, a collection of houses and trailers that sprung up down the road from Dawn Mining’s Ford mill site, where the ore was processed.

As a kid, he played in the dust under the haul trucks. His dad, a millwright, collected ore samples for Campbell and his older brother.

“Dad used to bring home some of those pretty green rocks,” said Campbell, 53. “We didn’t know there was a problem.”

Campbell later worked as a truck driver at the Midnite Mine and in the mill operation at the Sherwood Mine. Altogether, he spent about four years in the uranium industry.

“I was kind of concerned, but it was such good money,” said Campbell, who earned $13 an hour in the late 1970s. “We were told the government needed this stuff.”

At the time, “It looked high-tech and it looked safe to us.”

John Mudge, Dawn Mining’s vice president, disputes that working conditions were unsafe. Mudge worked on the Spokane Reservation from 1980 to 1982. He said Midnite Mine employees and millworkers wore dosimeter badges to track radiation exposure. Workers handling yellowcake in the mill wore respirators, Mudge said.

Once a month, the badges were sent away to a lab for analysis. “The radiation doses were very low,” he said.

Driveways built from ore

Taking a tour of the Midnite Mine requires entry through a locked gate surrounded by an 8-foot-high fence. The fence was installed in 2009 as a safety measure to keep people out of the 320-acre mine site, said Randy Connolly, the Spokane Tribe’s Superfund coordinator.

The federal government recommends spending no more than one hour a day at the mine site to limit exposure to radiation and radon gas. People shouldn’t eat berries or plants gathered from the Blue Creek drainage where the mine is located, or fish from the creek, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Meat from deer and elk that forage in the drainage could also pose health risks, the study said.

But for years after the Midnite Mine closed, the site remained accessible. People hauled truckloads of gravel out of the mine for driveways and construction projects. Unbeknownst to many, they were hauling away “proto-ore,” lower-grade radioactive ore that was stockpiled in the event that uranium prices rose, Connolly said.

Radioactive rocks embedded with crystals were also hauled away. They turned up in rustic rock fireplaces and decorative landscaping.

Lush grass and multiple water sources attracted elk, which established calving grounds at the Midnite Mine. Before the elk were fenced out, Connolly said, it was common to see dozens of cow elk and calves on the hillsides. The salts that leached out of piles of radioactive mine waste attracted other wildlife as well.

Nearly 3 million tons of uranium ore were blasted out of these hillsides. Visitors can stand at the top of Pit No. 3 and look down 500 feet to the bottom, which is covered with sparkling turquoise water.

The pit’s milky, blue-green coloring is reminiscent of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies or travel brochures for the Bahamas.

But the water is far from pristine. Sludge at the bottom is high in radioactivity and heavy metals.

“It’s basically as hot as any of the ore,” said Connolly, who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Mines before being hired by the tribe. “Now we’re trying to figure out what to do with it. The company suggested putting it on the ground. … That’s not a good idea.”

South of the Midnite Mine, a series of earthen terraces is visible on the horizon. That’s the reclaimed Sherwood Mine, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cites as a model for mine cleanup.

The Midnite Mine’s cleanup lags behind its neighbor as the result of long-running litigation over who will pay the $152 million bill, which includes at least 140 years of water treatment.

Dawn Mining is broke. Company officials are borrowing money from Newmont to pay the bills. During the lawsuit, Newmont tried to avoid responsibility for cleanup costs by saying it had little to do with the Midnite Mine’s day-to-day operations.

In 2008, U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled that the cleanup costs should be split evenly among Dawn, Newmont and the U.S. government. If Dawn can’t pay, Newmont is responsible for its share, too.

In his ruling, Quackenbush said the government is partly responsible for the mess, because it didn’t fulfill federal trust responsibilities to the Spokane Tribe through proper oversight of the mine.

Settlement talks are under way, with a signed agreement possible later this year. That would kick off a two-year design phase for the cleanup.

“We’re a couple of years away,” said Connolly, “unless someone decides they want to go back to court.”

With unemployment at 55 percent for tribal members living on the reservation, people are eager for cleanup jobs. Connolly frequently gets asked, “When will we start moving dirt?”

The Midnite Mine site needs extensive remediation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which crafted the plan. Two open pits remain at the mine. Five other pits were filled in with “really nasty stuff” that’s polluting the groundwater, Connolly said.

Towering waste rock piles litter the mine site. The haul roads were built with radioactive gravel.

Under orders from the federal government, Dawn Mining collects and treats water from the site before pumping it into Blue Creek, a tributary of the Spokane River. The treatment removes radioactive materials and heavy metals. But the tribe’s monitoring indicates that pollution levels are still high enough to kill aquatic insects in Blue Creek, Connolly said.

The tribe wants the water pumped directly into the Spokane River, where the pollution would be diluted in the larger water body.

Tribal officials also want a small plane equipped with radiation-sensing equipment to fly over the reservation. It would help detect radioactive driveways, so they could be cleaned up, too.

‘Eye-popping’ cancer risk

Did people get sick from uranium mining on the Spokane Reservation? The answer is elusive.

“It’s not like getting hit with a bullet,” Connolly said. “You get exposed to radiation at 20. You get cancer at 50 or 60. You wonder: Where did it come from?”

Multiple factors contribute to cancer risks, including smoking, genetics, diet and lifestyle. Nationwide, cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives over 45.

Yet the Midnite Mine site poses serious health risks. The EPA ran models, assessing how people’s cancer risk would increase if they lived at the Midnite Mine for 70 years, or gathered plants, hunted game and drank surface water from the site as part of a subsistence lifestyle.

Some numbers in the hypothetical examples are “eye-popping,” said Elly Hale, an EPA project manager working on the Midnite Mine cleanup.

An individual who lived off the land at the mine site, for example, would have a 1 in 5 probability of getting cancer, according to the modeling. The model was based on 70 years of exposure to pre-cleanup conditions. Some of the risk also came from background radiation in the highly mineralized area, Hale said.

However, the modeling only looks at current risk. It doesn’t try to approximate the risk former workers faced, or how much radiation or heavy metals their families were exposed to from dust that came home on their clothes.

Decades of studies done on the Navajo uranium workers in the Southwest show elevated rates of lung cancer and kidney disease.

Occupational health protections for workers didn’t take hold until the 1970s. Yet as early as 1950, the U.S. Public Health Service was studying illness rates in uranium miners. The results, published in 1962, showed the first statistical correlation between cancer and uranium mining.

Before the mines opened, Navajos had one of the lowest cancer rates in the nation, said Chris Shuey, an environmental health specialist with the nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, N.M. In addition to workers, cancer rates shot up in the general population, he said. Further studies have focused on gallbladder, stomach and kidney cancers, as well as breast and ovarian cancers.

“We’ve got pretty good evidence that the closer you live to mine sites, the sicker you are,” Shuey said.

A new study on the Navajo Reservation will track whether unborn babies are at risk from uranium exposure. Concrete used to build houses on the reservation contained radioactive sand and rock. In addition, people can be exposed by drinking water from contaminated sites or eating meat from animals that grazed there, said Steve Dearwent, chief of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s health investigations branch.

The study will follow expectant mothers to determine if uranium exposure correlates to low birth weights, premature births or more serious birth defects. Educating women so they can reduce their exposure is part of the study.

Safety of workers a focus

The Spokane Tribe occasionally gets inquiries about restarting the Midnite Mine, which has about 7 million pounds of ore left. Higher uranium prices are driving the interest. The U.S. imports 90 percent of the uranium used in its nuclear power plants.

But tribal Councilman Rudy Peone says it’s unlikely the mine will ever reopen. In the 1990s, Peone said the tribal council made a policy determination that human health and the environment were more important than mining royalties.

“To this day, we don’t know all the negative impacts of what that mine did to the land, the animals and the people,” he said.

Tribal activist Deb Abrahamson’s focus is gradually shifting. Instead of lobbying for cleanup, she’s starting to work on safety for future cleanup workers.

Through the lure of paychecks and steady employment, the cleanup will have parallels to the original uranium rush. “Those jobs are going to look very lucrative to this generation,” Abrahamson said.

This time around, she wants to ensure that workers have proper protective gear and know the risks. Otherwise, another generation could be exposed to radiation, Abrahamson said.

Last winter, Harold Campbell had to take a hiatus from digging graves. He was at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California getting treatment for prostate cancer.

One of Campbell’s desk drawers is stuffed full of funeral bulletins.

“I’ve buried hundreds of my people,” he said. “I just know that it wasn’t right for them not to tell us.”

Chemicals in Farm Runoff Rattle States on the Mississippi

Chemicals in Farm Runoff Rattle States on the Mississippi

Posted 02 June 2011, by , New York Times,

As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dead zones have been occurring in the gulf since the 1970s, and studies show that the main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fertilizers and animal manure in river runoff. They settle in at the mouth of the gulf and fertilize algae, which prospers and eventually starves other living things of oxygen.

Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.

For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.

The lack of formal action upstream has long been maddening to the downstream states most affected by the pollution, and the extreme flooding this year has only increased the tensions.

“Considering the current circumstances, it is extremely frustrating not seeing E.P.A. take more direct action,” said Matt Rota, director of science and water policy for the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental advocacy group in New Orleans that has renewed its calls for federally enforced targets. “We have tried solely voluntary mechanisms to reduce this pollution for a decade and have only seen the dead zone get bigger.”

Environmental Protection Agency officials said they had no immediate plans to force the issue, but farmers in the Mississippi Basin are worried. That is because only six months ago, the agency stepped in at the Chesapeake Bay, another watershed with similar runoff issues, and set total maximum daily loads for those same pollutants in nearby waterways. If the states do not reduce enough pollution over time, the agency could penalize them in a variety of ways, including increasing federal oversight of state programs or denying new wastewater permitting rights, which could hamper development. The agency says it is too soon to evaluate their progress in reducing pollution.

Don Parish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group, says behind that policy is the faulty assumption that farmers fertilize too much or too casually. Since 1980, he said, farmers have increased corn yields by 80 percent while at the same time reducing their nitrate use by 4 percent through precision farming.

“We are on the razor’s edge,” Mr. Parish said. “When you get to the point where you are taking more from the soil than you are putting in, then you have to worry about productivity.”

Dead zones are areas of the ocean where low oxygen levels can stress or kill bottom-dwelling organisms that cannot escape and cause fish to leave the area. Excess nutrients transported to the gulf each year during spring floods promote algal growth. As the algae die and decompose, oxygen is consumed, creating the dead zone. The largest dead zone was measured in 2002 at about 8,500 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. Shrimp fishermen complain of being hurt the most by the dead zones as shrimp are less able to relocate — but the precise impacts on species are still being studied.

The United States Geological Survey has found that nine states along the Mississippi contribute 75 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus. The survey found that corn and soybean crops were the largest contributors to the nitrogen in the runoff, and manure was a large contributor to the amount of phosphorus.

There are many other factors, of course, that determine what elements make it from crops into river water, for example, whether watersheds are protected by wetlands or buffer strips of land.

John Downing, a biogeochemist and limnologist at Iowa State University, said structural issues were also to blame. Many farms in Iowa, he said, are built on former wetlands and have drains right under the crop roots that whisk water away before soils can absorb and hold on to at least some of the fertilizer.

Still, overapplication of fertilizers remains a key contributor, he said. “For farmers, the consequences of applying too little is much riskier than putting too much on.”

Hemmed in by the antiregulatory mood of Congress and high food costs, the Obama administration has looked to combat Mississippi River pollution through an incentive program introduced in 2009 by the Department of Agriculture that encourages a variety of grass-roots solutions, from wetlands creation to educating farmers on just-in-time application.

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative provides $320 million in grant money, which has so far been spread among 700 projects in 12 states, projects proposed by farmers, environmental groups and local governments. So far, the department says the results are quite promising. Phosphorus and nitrogen found in surface runoff from 150,000 acres enrolled in the program have decreased by nearly 50 percent.

That amount of land is just a drop in the bucket for the vast Mississippi watershed, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thought it was promising enough to invite the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson, to visit one of the farms in the program.

“There is fear, real fear, in Iowa that we’ll take what we’re doing in Chesapeake Bay and transfer it here without regard to what’s already happening on the ground,” she said during her trip in April, adding she appreciated the opportunity “to ensure that isn’t our approach.”

Mr. Vilsack said that farmers had come a long way toward understanding their effect on ecosystems downstream and that what they needed were government incentives and creation of private markets — where, for example, farmers who do a lot of conservation could receive payments from farmers who do not — to help them improve environmental safeguards while they also keep food production high.

“A lot of folks are basing criticism and concerns on the way agriculture was, not the way it is now,” Mr. Vilsack said in a phone interview.  “We as a nation have an expansive appetite for inexpensive food. To produce more, you have to turn to strategies like chemicals and pesticides.”

That stance infuriates Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, an Iowa nonprofit that advocates for smaller organic farms. He argues that voluntary programs are a subterfuge.

“As is standard in Iowa and other states, voluntary regulation by the polluters and the industry themselves is the preferred method of getting around any serious environmental enforcement,” he said.

Even some farmers do not disagree. Chris Petersen, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which represents small farmers, said the country’s policy were not working. “We’ve been trying to do this for years, and we are just not turning the corner.”

Female Fish Develop “Testes” in Gulf Dead Zone

For Stressed Bees, the Glass Is Half Empty


For Stressed Bees, the Glass Is Half Empty


Posted 03 June 2011, by Staff, Science Daily,

When people are depressed or anxious, they are much more likely to see their glass as half empty than half full. In tough times, evidence of that same pessimistic outlook can be seen in dogs, rats, and birds. Now, researchers reporting online on June 2 in Current Biology, show that bees, too, share those very same hallmarks of negative emotion.

“We have shown that the emotional responses of bees to an aversive event are more similar to those of humans than previously thought,” said Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University. “Bees stressed by a simulated predator attack exhibit pessimism mirroring that seen in depressed and anxious people.”

“In other words,” added study first author Melissa Bateson, “the stressed bee’s glass is half empty.”

But, they say, that isn’t the same as saying that bees consciously experience emotions in the way that we do. On that point, the jury is still out.

To find out how bees view the world, the researchers set them up to make a decision about whether an unfamiliar scent portended good or bad things. First, the bees were trained to connect one odor with a sweet reward and another with the bitter taste of quinine. The bees learned the difference between the odors and became more likely to extend their mouthparts to the odor predicting sugar than the one predicting quinine.

Next, the researchers divided the bees into two groups. One group was shaken violently for one minute to simulate an assault on the hive by a predator such as a honey badger. The other group was left undisturbed. Those bees were then presented with the familiar odors and some new ones created from mixes of the two.

Agitated bees were less likely than the controls to extend their mouthparts to the odor predicting quinine and similar novel odors, the researchers found. In other words, the agitated bees behaved as if they had an increased expectation of a bitter taste, the researchers said, demonstrating a type of pessimistic judgment of the world known as a “cognitive bias.”

“What we have shown is that when a honeybee is subjected to a manipulation of its state that in humans would induce a feeling of anxiety, the bees show a similar suite of changes in physiology, cognition, and behavior to those we would measure in an anxious human,” Wright said. “In terms of what we are able to measure, a shaken honeybees is no less ‘anxious’ than a lonely dog or a rat in a barren cage.”

The researchers say they don’t expect the findings will be unique to honeybees among invertebrates. They would in fact expect to see the same thing in any animal that needs to change its behavior in the face of potential dangers.

The findings suggest that it may be possible to study bees as a model for emotion in invertebrates. “If some scientific research on emotion could be conducted in insects, this would lead to a reduction in the numbers of sentient vertebrate animals used in research,” Bateson said. “Thus our research potentially has important implications for animal welfare.”

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Cell Press, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:

  1. Melissa Bateson, Suzanne Desire, Sarah E. Gartside, Geraldine A. Wright. Agitated Honeybees Exhibit Pessimistic Cognitive Biases. Current Biology, 02 June 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.05.017