I think I have discovered the missing link to cancer in the community of Fort Chipewyan . . . “Uranium City.”
Recently, Dr. David Schindler and filmmaker Niobe Thompson have tried to pin the cancer and health problems in Fort Chipewyan on the oilsands in their CBC documentary.
Both these gentlemen have very high academic credentials. Consequently, how could either fail to make reference to possible cancer causing toxins emanating from the Fort Chipewyan regional uranium mines — a possible source of the adult cancer and immune system disorders that we see in this community that is just 55 km from a mine and sits on a lake where uranium mine tailings are known to have leaked?
Thirty per cent of the world uranium is mined in the Lake Athabasca area — some seven or eight mines surround the lake.
Thirty-six now-abandoned uranium mine and mill sites were developed and operated in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada, from approximately 1957 through 1964. During their operating lifetimes these mines produced large quantities of ore and tailings. The Gunnar Mine is located on the shores of Lake Athabasca, the 22nd largest lake in the world.
The Gunnar mine (open pit and underground) produced over five million tonnes of uranium ore and nearly 4.4 million tonnes of mine tailings.
There is an estimated 2,710,700 m3 of waste rock that abuts the shores of Lake Athabasca.
Let’s look at a northern study.
According to the study Arctic Pollution 2009 regarding northern uranium mines operating in this same time period on Great Bear Lake “. . . Indigenous people working in these industries have raised concerns about the health risks from handling ore. As part of the joint plan, the doses to 35 of these workers have been reconstructed.
“The cumulative doses during the period of employment ranged from 27 to 3015 millisieverts. The numbers can be placed in relation to 20 millisieverts, which is the internationally recommended annual dose limit for people working with radioactivity, and 2.4 millisieverts as an average annual dose to the public from natural radiation. . . . Radionuclides can escape from waste and byproducts such as tailings, mine water, scale and slag. With chemical and heat treatments, they can also be emitted to the air.”
Regarding ‘country food’ uptake on Page 76 of the same report states: “Arctic terrestrial food webs are especially efficient in concentrating radionuclides, which explains the high exposure of some Arctic populations.” And further, regarding Chernobyl fallout in Finland and Scandinavia and its impact on people who eat country food, it was found that reindeer herders has 10 times higher mean body content of cesium-137 because they ate wild meat.
Well, we didn’t have a Chernobyl up there — or did we — a different kind of one? No one knows.
Clearly worker safety was not a serious consideration in early uranium mining development. Maybe the workers of Fort Chipewyan brought home ‘hot rocks’ on their clothes, on their shoes . . . in their pockets. I don’t know. I often pick up rocks of interest when I go somewhere new.
It was noted in the Alberta Health Services study that people from Fort Chipewyan did work in local uranium mines — the likelihood of contact contamination would seem to be very high.
However, not to worry as the official report on such mine closure and decommissioning informs the reader that “generally the effects of the project will have dissipated within the first 200 to 300 years.”
And it is heartening to know that “Any restrictions on land use are associated with land planning and should not limit traditional land use by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.”
So wildlife that form the backbone of local community food can roam freely and graze at will on contaminated sites. First Nations people can wander at will — preferably without a geiger counter.
Apparently moose can easily travel 100 km a day, prefer plants and aquatic plants of which they eat some 16 to 27 kg per day, and can swim about 20 km. When I connect these dots I get the image of traditional aboriginal hunter eating glow-in-the-dark meat.
What kind of ‘science’ by experts like Schindler and filmmakers Niobe Thompson and Tom Radford has failed to notice these more likely factors for cancer that I was able to find in a few minutes through Google?
Especially when there’s a big town there called Uranium City. That was my first clue. And I don’t have a PhD.
Michelle Stirling Anosh is a Ponoka-based freelance writer.