According to the EPA, Uranium Mining releases harmful radio-nuclides into surrounding bodies of water, putting people, natural resources, and ecosystems at risk. These include: radon, radium, and uranium.
During both exploration and mining, area groundwater can become contaminated with uranium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, zinc and other heavy metals harmful to human health.
Dr. Donald A. Molony, a renal specialist in Houston is working with a team of researchers from University of New Mexico and they conclude:
1.Uranium toxicity to the kidneys is principally through its action as a heavy metal resulting in injury to the proximal tubule and chronic scaring with some interstitial disease and is not due to any significant degree to radioactivity per say.
2. The risk to the kidneys is dose dependent and likely time dependent such that lower doses of exposure over long periods of time may be equally injurious to high exposure for a shorter period of time. Our current research is attempting in part to understand the unique contribution of long-term lower dose exposure to kidney disease and kidney failure.
3. The risk is likely substantially increased when other metals are also ingested simultaneously. In situ mining methods have the potential of also increasing other metals such as cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, zinc etc. This has to be determined with careful testing. The kidney risk from uranium exposure is also substantially increased if other disease states are present in the population in higher percentages and these disease states would include diabetes mellitus. It is also likely that some ethnic groups might be at higher risk than others but the evidence for this last point is still weak at this time.
4. Water contamination will result in human exposure to Uranium directly through ingestion. There is additional exposure that might be also quite important through consumption of meat and other foods where the animals were grazed on land or the food crops grown on land irrigated with the contaminated water etc.
5. Monitoring for radioactivity is not sufficient to protect human health as the uranium is likely essentially "equally" toxic to the kidney as a heavy metal in both its radioactive and non-radioactive forms. It is true that radioactivity is dangerous but the absence of radioactivity does not equal the absence of risk / danger.
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Dr. Au, a researcher with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, used laboratory testing in his study of health impacts from uranium mining in Texas. Dr. Au found that people living near open pit mining in Karnes County had defects in their immune systems, the type that can lead to cancer and he found that similar people who did not live near the mining did not have these defects.