Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Don’t lift statewide ban on uranium mining

Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013             

It has recently been brought to my attention that the Environmental Quality Advisory Council of Fairfax County has passed a resolution asking the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to take a stance supporting the ban on uranium mining in Virginia. Last year, this same request was presented to the Board of Supervisors, but no action was taken.

This is an issue that is not going away, and I hope the Fairfax County board will take this concern seriously by placing opposition to lifting the ban on their legislative agenda.

As a native resident of Pittsylvania County who has spent the past few years surrounded by the debate over whether a uranium mine should be allowed in my back yard, I am well aware of the risks uranium mining can pose to surrounding communities. As a student at George Mason University, I am also well aware that Fairfax County could just as easily be put in danger if the statewide ban on uranium mining is lifted.

According to the Fairfax Water Authority’s Assessment of Potential Water Supply Impacts from Uranium Mining in Virginia, there are 16 former mining leases in Fauquier County. These localized areas of highly concentrated uranium are located in both the Potomac and Occoquan watersheds.

There is a devastating history of tailings containment failures throughout the United States that have caused water contamination. Contaminates of failed tailing ponds or wastewater storage facilities include radium, uranium, thorium, arsenic, chromium, lead, and cadmium, amongst others. The release of these contaminates into the Potomac or Occoquan watersheds would be detrimental to the water quality of Fairfax County.

This pernicious history of uranium mining, paired with the fact that Fairfax is located in a region characterized by heavy precipitation, periodic extreme flooding, and the potential for landslides and earthquakes, demonstrates the risk lifting the ban on uranium mining could pose to those of us living in Fairfax County.

The contamination potential in the Potomac and Occoquan watersheds is significant enough to measurably impact source water for Fairfax County, including George Mason University. This means residents, students and tourists from around the country interested in seeing George Mason University or Washington, D.C., could be put at risk to harmful health effects including cancer, birth defects, respiratory disease, and negative toxic effects on kidney function, bone development and the formation of blood cells. Furthermore, property values could decrease, tourism could stall and agriculture production, including crops and livestock, could be polluted by contaminates in the water and land.

Lifting the ban on uranium mining would put citizens, businesses, and tourism in the Fairfax area at risk. If the Fairfax Board of Supervisors expects to keep the best interests of their community in mind, they should place their opposition to lifting the ban on their legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly.

Samantha Parsons, Fairfax