Durango Telegraph - Revisiting radon â?? EPA goes back to the radiation drawing board
Revisiting radon â?? EPA goes back to the radiation drawing board

There is some emerging hope that the Uravan saga will never be replayed in Southwest Colorado. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement that should lead to stronger limits on radon emissions from uranium mines and mills. Radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas that is responsible for 21,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

WildEarth Guardians and Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste (CCATW), a watchdog group from Cañon City, filed suit against the EPA in 2008. The groups charged that the agency had failed to update health standards limiting radon from operating uranium mills.

Clean Air Act Amendments required the EPA to review and revise the radon standards, but it had not

done so in 20 years. In response to the suit, the agency has committed to revising and updating the standards and undertaking an expanded public process. Conservationists are applauding the move.

“This agreement puts us on track to keep communities safe from radon gas emitted from the tailings at operating uranium mills,” said Sharyn Cunningham with CCATW. “For those of us living in parts of the Rocky Mountain West threatened by uranium mills and in-situ uranium processing, this agreement is a huge step toward ensuring that our neighbors can breathe fresh air, free of cancer-causing radon.”

Radon is a radioactive byproduct of uranium milling released by mill tailings, and there is no safe level of the

gas, according to the EPA. However, the agency’s current standards also allow radon emissions at levels 6,666 times higher than background levels.

New standards would be especially significant for the Four Corners region. Blanding, Utah, is home to the nation’s only operating uranium mill; a new mill has been proposed near Nucla in the Paradox Valley and recently received a key approval; and the greater Dolores River drainage is dotted with thousands of uranium claims and mining operations. In nearby Cañon City, the Cotter Uranium Mill, which could reopen at any time, is located less than a mile from homes and businesses.

– Will Sands