Radiation Warning Signs Placed on Cheyenne River
by Shelley Bluejay Pierce
Radiation warning signs were posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 in the small town of Red Shirt, South Dakota which lies on the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
(Everitt Poor Thunder (far left) meets with members of the media
as he explains the posting of the radiation warning signs being posted
in the river areas. Photo by, "Defenders of the Black Hills" )
leader in Red Shirt, asked Defenders of the Black Hills, an
environmental organization, whether the Cheyenne River water could be
used to irrigate a community garden. A local well could not be used as
it was found to be radioactive and warning signs surround that
structure. The water well taps into the Inyan Kara aquifer that also
contains the Lakota and Fall River formations, making up an extremely
large aquifer of water supplies for many regions.
of Red Shirt occupy a village site that is thousands of years old to
the Oglala Tetuwan (Sioux) people. Many have lived here all of their
lives, growing gardens with water taken from the Cheyenne River and
fishing for catfish, bass, and turtles. In the summer months, the river
is used for swimming and other recreational pursuits.
water sample taken from the Cheyenne River was sent to a laboratory and
the results revealed levels of alpha radiation above the Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Level. Alpha radiation
causes harm when ingested hence the warning signs were placed to warn
people of the dangers in the Cheyenne River.
The portion of
the Cheyenne River Basin that lies in southwestern South Dakota drains
about 16,500 square miles within the boundaries of the state. The area
in this basin includes part of the Black Hills and Badlands, rangeland,
irrigated cropland, and mining areas. After traversing the western half
of the state from southwest to northeast, the Cheyenne River flows into
Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River.
efforts remove the radiation in the water at Red Shirt have been
unsuccessful. Drinking water is piped in, or residents must drive 25
miles to the little town of Hermosa to buy water. The Cheyenne River
has dried up approximately one mile from Red Shirt and tests of the
river bottom soil by Defenders of the Black Hills are pending. Initial
tests using a Geiger counter revealed more than double the amount of
normal background elevations for radiation.
news reports recently referred to a DENR report and stated that uranium
is naturally occurring in that area which is said to account for the
radiation levels in the water.
"If that was the case, there
would not have been villages there for thousands of years. There would
have been no fish or any aquatic life previously in this river. We
sampled the river with nets for aquatic life and found only 2 crayfish
and about 10 minnows in more than 100 yards of the river. In essence,
it's a dead river. There are two endangered species that use this
River: the Sturgeon chubb, a small fish, and the Bald Eagle," explained
Charmaine White Face, founder and Coordinator of Defenders of the Black
According to published information in the The 2006
South Dakota Integrated Report For Surface Water Quality Assessment the
Cheyenne River water quality continues to be generally poor. The lower
Cheyenne drainage, in general, contains a high percentage of erodible
cropland and rangeland in west central South Dakota. Historical mining
records for the state show more than 4,000 exploratory uranium mining
holes, some large enough for a man to fall into, in the southwestern
Black Hills with an additional 3,000 holes just 10 miles west of the
town of Belle Fourche, SD. These mining holes go to depths of 600 feet.
a meeting for the Defenders of the Black Hills on Feb 26th 2005,
discussions centered on the radiation levels in some areas reported at
a staggering 1,400 times higher than the ordinary background radiation
on the Grand River in the Cave Hills and the adverse affects to the
villages on the Standing Rock Indian Reservations. Also discussed was
the high proportion of cancer related illnesses and birth defects
especially in the small community of Rock Creek.
also hundreds of abandoned uranium mines in Wyoming whose runoff comes
down the Cheyenne River, and also 29 abandoned mines in the
southwestern Black Hills, all upstream of Red Shirt Village. One of the
largest open-pit abandoned uranium mines in the southern Black Hills is
a square mile and its runoff goes into the Cheyenne River," explained
Charmaine White Face.
Most recently, a Canadian mining
company, Powertech, began drilling uranium exploratory wells in the
Dewey Burdock area northwest of Edgemont. Defenders of the Black Hills
battled in court against the drilling permit allowing Powertech to
drill 155 more exploratory wells at depths of 500-600 feet in the
southwestern Black Hills but the Courts allowed the drilling after
denying the appeal. Powertech currently has 4,000 uncapped, and
unmarked uranium exploratory wells drilled previously. The mining
company plans on doing In Situ Recovery (ISR) of uranium from the
Lakota and Fall River aquifers. In Situ Recovery was formerly known as
In Situ Leach (ISL) mining.
During the ISR process, a
solution to dissolve the uranium is poured down the wells and the
dissolved uranium brought back up to the surface. The uranium is
separated from the remaining radioactive waste solution that is then
reinjected into the aquifer after being held in waste ponds on the
According to Powertech's mining application, each
exploratory drill hole "will have a small excavated mud pit that will
be approximately 12 feet by 5 feet" and 10 feet deep.
the concerns of the environmental groups are the possibility of
overflow from the mud pits with the sudden rain showers that occur in
the Black Hills. One of the aquifers empties directly into the Cheyenne
River and is used by many ranchers to water their livestock. Among the
deeper aquifers of concern is the Madison that provides water for many
western South Dakota communities.
"A list of uranium mining
facts provided online by our organization, Defenders of the Black
Hills, reveals a long history of abuses regarding uranium and coal
mining in the Upper Midwest region. In an area of the USA that has been
called "the Bread Basket of the World," more than forty years of mining
have released radioactive polluted dust and water runoff from the
hundreds of abandoned open pit uranium mines, processing sites,
underground nuclear power stations, and waste dumps. Our grain supplies
and our livestock production in this area have used the water and have
been exposed to the remainders of this mining. We may be seeing global
affects, not just localized affects, to the years of uranium mining"
concluded Charmaine White Face.
Pacific Free Press on July 31, 2007, 10:53pmfrom