A poisonous past: At Monticello Mill, the story of uranium’s deadly legacy

A poisonous past: At Monticello Mill, the story of uranium’s deadly legacy

At the Monticello Mill, the story of uranium’s deadly legacy
This photo of a silhouetted miner shows work being done at Monument No. 2, a major uranium mine in Monument Valley. By the early 1960s Navajo miners, many of whom had no workplace protection from radiation, had mined 6 million tons of uranium off Navajo lands. By 1981, teenage girls living in Navajo communities near uranium mines and mills had cancer in their reproductive organs at a rate 17 times the national average.
Denny Viles, who lived in Durango and was a member of the town’s economic and social elite, poses here with Navajo miners at the Monument Valley uranium mine Monument No. 2. The Durango mill processed ore trucked in from a variety of mines.
The poisonous past in Durango is represented by the 2.5 million cubic yards of radioactive tailings stored just north of Lake Nighthorse in a 42-acre disposal cell. The Durango mill site, now the dog park along the Animas River, processed both uranium or yellowcake and vanadium or red cake. Material from the mill helped develop atomic bombs for the Manhattan Project.
This vintage “Scintillator” was purchased by former Durango Mayor Bob Beers to be used in a small airplane to fly over Utah’s canyon country and detect uranium. Supposedly, you just aimed it out the plane’s windshield and it could locate precious uranium deposits buried under layers of sandstone. Like other gadgets sold during the uranium frenzy of the 1950s, this device had little practical use.
Near the Monticello Mill interpretive kiosk, bereaved family members plant memorial trees in honor of relatives who died from cancer and radiation-related illnesses. Housewives died because they hung out their laundry. As they retrieved shirts, sheets, pillowcases and jeans, they brought radioactive dust into their homes. “Monticello was the front line of the Cold War,” says Bill Boyle, editor and publisher of the San Juan Record. “My father died of cancer and my brother died of cancer. He swam in the tailings pond.”
An interpretive kiosk at the Monticello Mill site includes a timeline covering the history of the mill, its owners, and its dangers. Another part of the kiosk describes memorial displays and personal stories of local Utahns who became ill or died from radiation exposure, rightfully claiming to be uncompensated victims of the Cold War.
A wetland with watercress, cattails, willows and hiking trails at the bottom of Clay Hill Road on the southeast side of Monticello covers ground once contaminated by mill tailings and radiation. San Juan County, Utah, is to be commended for listing the Monticello Mill Site as No. 77 in the top 100 sites to see in the county in their summer 2017 guidebook.

A poisonous past: At Monticello Mill, the story of uranium’s deadly legacy

This photo of a silhouetted miner shows work being done at Monument No. 2, a major uranium mine in Monument Valley. By the early 1960s Navajo miners, many of whom had no workplace protection from radiation, had mined 6 million tons of uranium off Navajo lands. By 1981, teenage girls living in Navajo communities near uranium mines and mills had cancer in their reproductive organs at a rate 17 times the national average.
Denny Viles, who lived in Durango and was a member of the town’s economic and social elite, poses here with Navajo miners at the Monument Valley uranium mine Monument No. 2. The Durango mill processed ore trucked in from a variety of mines.
The poisonous past in Durango is represented by the 2.5 million cubic yards of radioactive tailings stored just north of Lake Nighthorse in a 42-acre disposal cell. The Durango mill site, now the dog park along the Animas River, processed both uranium or yellowcake and vanadium or red cake. Material from the mill helped develop atomic bombs for the Manhattan Project.
This vintage “Scintillator” was purchased by former Durango Mayor Bob Beers to be used in a small airplane to fly over Utah’s canyon country and detect uranium. Supposedly, you just aimed it out the plane’s windshield and it could locate precious uranium deposits buried under layers of sandstone. Like other gadgets sold during the uranium frenzy of the 1950s, this device had little practical use.
Near the Monticello Mill interpretive kiosk, bereaved family members plant memorial trees in honor of relatives who died from cancer and radiation-related illnesses. Housewives died because they hung out their laundry. As they retrieved shirts, sheets, pillowcases and jeans, they brought radioactive dust into their homes. “Monticello was the front line of the Cold War,” says Bill Boyle, editor and publisher of the San Juan Record. “My father died of cancer and my brother died of cancer. He swam in the tailings pond.”
An interpretive kiosk at the Monticello Mill site includes a timeline covering the history of the mill, its owners, and its dangers. Another part of the kiosk describes memorial displays and personal stories of local Utahns who became ill or died from radiation exposure, rightfully claiming to be uncompensated victims of the Cold War.
A wetland with watercress, cattails, willows and hiking trails at the bottom of Clay Hill Road on the southeast side of Monticello covers ground once contaminated by mill tailings and radiation. San Juan County, Utah, is to be commended for listing the Monticello Mill Site as No. 77 in the top 100 sites to see in the county in their summer 2017 guidebook.
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