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Midnite uranium mine, Spokane, WA

The Midnite Mine is an inactive open-pit uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Operations at the mine lasted from 1955 until 1981, with a four year period of inactivity in the late 1960s. The mine was located on the Spokane Reservation and employed a large amount of Native Americans from the area. Many of these former workers are now experiencing health problems they believe to be a result of their time working at the mine. During the years that the mine was in operation, uranium ore was transported from the mine to a mill in Ford, Washington. Midnite Mine produced approximately 2.9 million tons of ore averaging 0.2 percent uranium oxide and left behind about 2.4 million tons of stockpiled ore (containing approximately 2 million pounds of uranium oxide) and 33 million tons of waste rock.

There were six different pits excavated in total at the minl. Four of the pits were back filled with waste rock from the mine. The other two are still open and partially filled with water from inflow, precipitation.

The exposed surfaces of rock in the ore piles, waste rock piles, and forming pit walls generate acid rock drainage in the groundwater, seeps, and surface water. The surface water from the mine's drainage basin flows to three drainages which empty into Blue Creek. Blue Creek, which flows into Lake Roosevelt, is home to several fish species of special concern that have been found to contain heavy metals that many link to the contamination from the mine. The U.S. Bureau of Mines and the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that seeps, ground water and pit water at Midnite Mine are contained with heavy metals and radionuclides. In April 1998, the EPA also found elevated levels of metals and radionuclides in numerous on-site sources. Several contaminated ground water seeps were observed to be flowing into nearby surface water drainages.

The road that runs from Midnite Mine to the Dawn mill has spots with spiked levels of radiation. Also having high levels of radiation are driveways of homes in the area that were built from crushed ore hauled from the mine. The roots of plants growing around the mine had radioactive uranium levels as much as 11 times higher than plants from elsewhere in the area.

The EPA has warned that members of the tribe should avoid fishing, hunting, and berry picking around the Blue Creek do to prolonged contamination. Using a scientific model, the EPA concluded that a person living on food gathered in Blue Creek drainage and using water for sweat lodges had a 1 in 5 chance of getting cancer from the added radiation.

A legal battle erupted over who was going to pay the proposed $150 million to clean up the site. The two previous owners of the mine both argue they should not be expected to pay. The Dawn Mining Co had said it had too few assets and the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp. argued that it is not responsible because it didn't manage the day to day operations at the mine. A federal judge found in favor of EPA and the tribe and ordered Newmont Mining Corp. to help pay for the cost of clean up.


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