No Amount of Uranium Is Safe

Charmaine White Face
February 11, 2013

There is a situation brewing in western South Dakota that has quite a few people concerned about the safety of soldiers in the South Dakota Army National Guard. It’s not that they will be going overseas to fight. Rather, it is that they are in danger right here at home, and the powers that be do not seem to care.

The South Dakota National Guard plans on going into the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands between Highway 44 and Highway 40 in an area that contains naturally occurring uranium. No, this uranium is not deep in the ground, but at or very near the surface and the radiation levels are high.

South Dakota National Guard Captain Ed Cromwell offered to go into the area to get radiation readings after hearing our concerns. Defenders of the Black Hills has been going around western South Dakota checking abandoned open pit uranium mines for years. We have been in areas with levels that are four times higher than Fukushima, Japan. We work with a Nuclear Physics professor from the University of Michigan regarding our findings, as well as Professor Hannon LaGarry, Ph. D. in Geology, the head of the Math and Science Department at Oglala Lakota College.

The levels Capt. Cromwell was reading were in milliRems per hour, while our calibrator works with the much smaller microRems per hour. So when his highest reading was 0.25 milliRems per hour, he wasn’t that concerned. However, that was 250 microRems per hour in our calculations and rather high. When you consider that an x-ray is the equilivant of 15 microRems per hour, and you’re only exposed for a second, then 250 microRems per hour is alarming.

Now, the reason for the concern for the South Dakota soldiers is because they will be in those areas for 24 hours per day for a month at least; sleeping, eating, working, breathing in the dust. When you do the math, they will be exposed to 180,000 microRems in that month, or the equivalent of 12,000 x-rays. That’s a lot of nuclear radioactivity which can cause cancer and change their DNA.

Last summer we let the SD National Guard and the Nebraska National Forest know of our concerns when they were doing their Environmental Assessment. They said they would put water on the roads to hold down the dust. Radioactivity will not be held down by water. If that was so, there would be little concern about radioactivity any place in the world.

As the Governor is the Commander in Chief of the South Dakota National Guard, we gathered hundreds of signatures on petitions to give to him to show the peoples’ concern for the soldiers. But his scheduler would never allow us the opportunity to meet with Governor Daugaard to present our concerns. She also wouldn’t allow Tom Emmanuel, the Executive Director of South Dakota Peace and Justice, an opportunity to speak with the Governor about this issue either.

Finally, an email was sent to the Governor. He responded in a letter and said we could present our concerns in the Environmental Assessment. Either someone isn’t telling the Governor that the Environmental Assessment is done, or the Governor is of the same opinion that 180,000 microRems of radioactivity will not harm South Dakota soldiers.

Someone needs to warn the soldiers. When alpha radiation enters the body, in this case, through the dust, it doesn’t leave the body, it continues to accumulate. It can enter by breathing. It can enter through the mouth, the eyes, the ears, or a small cut or crack in the skin. It can land on a canteen and be swallowed in the water. But there is not just alpha radiation in this area. The 13 decay products of the naturally occurring uranium are 85% more radioactive with beta and gamma radiation as well.

Just because I’m an Indian woman doesn’t mean this is an Indian issue. This is a human being issue, and we are concerned for all the soldiers of the South Dakota Army National Guard.

If the Governor doesn’t believe the concerns of Defenders of the Black Hills and the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, then he should have a study done by an independent source of the radioactive levels in that area using microRems per hour before soldiers are allowed to go into that area. He should also find out what prolonged exposure to low doses of radioactivity will do to human beings. He will find that doctors and scientists all over the world are saying, “No dose is safe.”

Charmaine White Face (65) is the Coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, an all-volunteer environmental organization. She is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and has a degree with a double major in Physical Science and Biology from Black Hills State University. She is an organizer, writer and former teacher.




Two Bears Growling's picture
Let them learn their lesson the hard way. That seems to be the only way these ignorant ones learn anything: The hard way. They have been told it is not safe in that area so it is no longer on our hands. Arrogance & ignorance combined have caused & continue to cause much harm across Turtle Island my friends.
Two Bears Growling
Thank you Charmaine for your continued vigilance and important good work. This is a critical issue and those studying the situation should be given greater credibility by the National Guard and the Governor. I also have grave concerns for anyone living near this area.
azpark's picture
I am very much aware of the sensitivity most people have about being exposed to any radiation; however, it is important to get the facts straight to avoid confusion. Unfortunately your article fails in this regard. First trying to confuse things with micro, milli or nano serves no purpose .25 milli rem per hour = 250 mircro rem per hour = 250,000 nano rem per hour The are all the exactly the same exposure Secondly, The average American is exposed to 620 milli rem or 620,000 micro rems each year due to natural background radiation. This equates to .07 milli rem or 70 micro rem per hour. You state that an x ray is equivalent to 15 micro rems per hour which is completely incorrect. First of all exposure to x rays is measured in milli or micro rems period. Not in milli or micro per hour. To take a typical x ray exposure of 50,000 micro rem and divide that by 3600 to get an exposure of 14 micro rem per hour is unforgivable. It just isn't done that way. Now to put things in perspective: Total exposure is what is important and what every scientist and doctor goes by. Captain Cromwell and you both came up with the same number .25 milli rem per hour = 250 micro rem per hour. That equates as you say to 180000 micro rem total exposure. A typical x ray of 50,000 micro rem means Captain Cromwell is exposed to about 3.5 chest xrays not 12,000 as you state. In addition, the x ray exposure is virtually all gamma radiation which is very penetrating. Captain Cromwell is exposed almost entirely to alpha radiation which is carried by dust particles (so watering the roads does help). Further alpha particles can't penetrate the skin or a simple paper mask over your face. Beta particles are stopped by heavy clothing and boots. Gamma rays which make up a tiny tiny portion of the exposure probably account for no more than 10 micro rem of the total 180,00 micro rem exposure. Some additional facts Federal occupational safety limit 5,000,000 micro rem per year (570 micro rem per hour) President Bush's thyroid treatment required a one time dose of 20,000,000 micro rem So Captain Cromwell is receiving less than half the average occupational exposure limit rate but more importantly he is only receiving it for 1 month. And finally, to equate Captain Cromwell's exposure to Fukushima is totally incorrect, disrespectful to your Japanese brothers and total fear mongering
Ms. White Face, it is Laudatory that you surface this "pending calamity" to avoid future health issues of many. - A Big Thank You - from an Agent Orange Veteran of The Viet Nam War. You surfaced data that is inexcusable NOT to be considered; and surfaced the difference in equipment used to obtain the RAD Limits in the Training Area. Radiation Exposure is an "Ugly & Painful Death". ALL Army Trained Officers have a portion of Instruction that teach "How To Fight In A Nuclear Theater". I am sure the "Good Captain" is now aware of his defective Radiation Readings by your Appreciated Work. The Office of "The Chief of Staff" recently added a new General Officer Full General (4 Star) on the Chief of Staff representing the National Guard. (NGB) I am sure that if you use Wikipedia search, you will get that Office and Name. You as a Citizen have the Constitutional Right to contact that Office with your Justified Concerns; and I suggest YOU & YOURS DO SO! If Local Government ignores their Constituents, then you get their attention with other means; and other people. Army Doctrine would only permit 250 RADS per month - your Scientific & Medical Evidence clearly & convincingly demonstrates a GREATER EXPOSURE! I would ask all who read this Article, no matter what State; to contact your Elected Representatives to intercede in a "Disaster Waiting" - and save these Soldiers and Families future medical issues of a Life Time.
Custer didn't listen either.
I hope somebody breaks through the BS that the governor seems to be covered up with - lucky for him it's BS covering his agenda and not radiation. Thanks for posting!