Uranium Contamination Found In Wind River Reservations Drinking Water

May 3, 2012

The Department of Energy says elevated levels of uranium have been found in drinking water on the Wind River Reservation. At a public meeting in Riverton, the DOE confirmed that four households on Wind River showed levels of uranium up to twice the legal limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. 
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s John Eriksen says the Department of Energy is concerned. "At this point they're treating it like a real threat," says Eriksen. "It's possible that it could just be a lab error or an anomaly, but everybody's taking precautions. The governors been informed, the administrator of the Department of Environmental Quality knows about it, so they're taking all the precautions that's possible, and will not know anything until additional sampling is done."
In 1958 Susquehanna-Western Inc., began producing uranium yellowcake on the Wind River Reservation. When the mill closed in 1963, it left behind nearly 2-million cubic yards of uranium waste, commonly known as tailings. For almost 20 years, those tailings were left out in the open on the reservation, and natural processes of rainfall and snowmelt drove contaminants into the ground and ultimately, the areas water table.
In the late 80's the tailings were finally removed, but since then, residents have complained of increased rates of cancer, thyroid disorders, birth defects and other health problems they blame on the area's remaining contamination.
At last nights public meeting, the Department of Energy did not say that health problems in the area were linked to uranium contamination, but did confirm what some residents of the Reservation have feared for over two decades: that there are elevated levels of uranium in area tap water.
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's John Eriksen says he accompanied Department of Energy officials to the four residences where contamination was found.
"They have bottled water, we told them to continue drinking bottled water," says Erikson. "Those wells will be re-sampled, obviously there has to be confirmation of this, so those wells will be re-sampled [Thursday], and then a full crew is coming up from Grand Junction next week to do every tap on that public water supply."
Eriksen says the DOE will be working to find out if the results were lab errors, anomalies, or point to a more serious problems with the areas water.
Approximately 40 people use the water supply, which was paid for by the DOE. Officials with the Department of Energy refused to make a recorded statement about the situation.