Mining Contamination on Pine Ridge


By Janie Mackey:

For many tribal nations water contamination has become a focal point across the country.  The Oglala Lakota were moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation, which has would become contaminated from uranium mining.  The water contamination is not isolated however spread across the wells that provides water to the reservation.  Uranium contamination could lead to kidney failure and death. 

Like many other nations, the Oglala Lakota were taken advantage of by the United States government.  In an article titled “Uranium & Arsenic in the Water: In-Situ Leach Mining Contamination on Indian Lands.,” the author describes the Oglala Lakota and the various testings’ for contamination in the waters for the Pine Ridge reservation.  The Oglala Lakota believed what they were being told that their lands would stay theirs “as long as the water flows and sweet grass grows” (Uranium & Arsenic).  Like many other agreements with the Indigenous nations this too was just a sales pitch and the government did not hold up their end of the bargain.  There are about 48,000 Oglala Lakota’s with over half residing in the area of the Pine Ridge.  “The Pine Ridge Reservation was originally known as Prisoner of War Camp #344” (Uranium & Arsenic in the Water). From 1995 to now there has been a drinking water quality test.  These tests were performed by many agencies including Oglala Sioux Tribal Rural Water Program, Indian Health Service and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDDR) along with a few other agencies.  “There are two serious threats to our drinking water, Arsenic, and Alpha Emitters (radiation emitting)” (Uranium & Arsenic in the Water).

A US Geological Survey performed between 1992 and 1997 indicates in Allen J Heakin report “Water Quality of Selected Springs and Public-Supply Wells, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1992-97.”  The springs that were tested there were six that could supply and adequate amount of drinking water.  “Based on limited number of discharge measurement collected, concentrations of lead exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)” (Heakin).  As for the wells that were tested there is one tested with and Inyan Kara aquifer, one with and alluvial aquifer and 42 with an Arikaree aquifer.  There was a sample from an Arikaree well “that exceeded the MCL for arsenic.” (Heakin) “Eight wells, all from thee Arikaree aquifer, equaled or exceeded the proposed MCL of 20 µg/L for uranium and 33 wells (75 percent) equaled or exceeded one-half of the proposed MCL.  The still believe that the uranium levels can be attributed to a natural occurrence.

Drinking the contaminated water can potentially lead to kidney failure.  It is extremely dangerous to have any exposure to uranium.  In an article “Uranium Health Effects,” it states “the main chemical effect associated with exposure to uranium and its compounds is kidney toxicity” (Uranium Health Effects) The kidney is a filter and once uranium is in your bloodstream it will pass through your kidneys.  However, depending on the amount, you ingest determines the level danger if small amounts the kidneys can heal themselves but too much could lead to death.

Thirty miles southwest of the nation’s borders lays the operations of the Crow Butte Resources uranium mining.  The Crow Butte was initially found in 1980 but began mining in 1991. The Atomic and Licensing board did admit an arsenic contamination.  “Crow Butte maintains that its operations that its operations have not and will not release contaminations such as arsenic” (Native daughters).

After testings’ and proof that levels of water are above the recommended levels for clean drinking water.  The Pine Ridge residents are at risk for uranium contamination.  Potential kidney failure and death are side effects to uranium exposure.  The wells that supply water sources to the reservation are not able to provide adequate water for the Oglala Lakota. Filed under Water Contamination by Admin1 Water Quality of Selected Springs and Public-Supply Wells, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1992-97, by Allen J Heakin.

About the author: Brian King

Brian D. King lives in Oklahoma and is a writer and blogger who studies and teaches English. He earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Brigham Young University, and he is currently working on his graduate degree in English in Oklahoma.

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