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ADEQ Renews Air-Pollution Permits for Three Uranium Mines Near Grand Canyon

Charles Platiau/Reuters

State officials have cleared three uranium mines near the Grand Canyon to continue operations. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality recently approved new air-pollution permits for the mines close to the canyon’s North and South rims. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The new permits include enhanced dust-control measures and increased soil sampling requirements. Mine operators will also have to reduce uranium stockpiles, cover open storage areas and use wind barriers if radiation levels reach certain trigger points.

“We are confident that these measure, while enhanced, will be more than adequate to protect human health and the environment. We recognize the real sensitivity of the area. We not only want to make sure we’re protecting any public in the area, but certainly protecting one of the wonders of the world,” says Timothy Franquist, ADEQ’s air quality director.

Franquist says ADEQ received about 2,000 responses during public comment periods this summer. The vast majority expressed concern with mines’ proximity to the Grand Canyon. ADEQ halted the air-permit process last year after elevated levels of uranium were found in soil near a mine.

Environmental groups have opposed the permit renewals, and say continued uranium mining in the area threatens public health and the Grand Canyon’s watershed.

ADEQ’s new air-pollution permits for the mines are valid for five years.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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