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Science and Innovations

Scientists: Uranium Hauling Poses Little Health Risk

Melissa Sevigny

The Flagstaff City Council is considering a resolution to oppose uranium hauling through town. Local scientists say the health risks for those along the route are likely to be low. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

One proposed route would truck ore from a mine near the Grand Canyon to a mill in Utah through Flagstaff, Cameron and Tuba City.

Diane Stearns is a chemist at Northern Arizona University. She says uranium can cause cancer, but there’s little reason to fear short-term exposure from a truck hauling ore.

"Is there going to be an appreciable risk with being exposed to uranium…a little bit of uranium in a rock in a truck that you may drive past, verses being a miner who’s in the mines every day for a long period of time? It’s a very different exposure," Stearns says.

Another NAU chemist, Jani Ingram, cautions there’s not much research on uranium transport. She says people along the route should be aware of the trucks, "and then also I think they need to observe: do they see material flying out of these things? If so, it needs be reported, because my understanding is there’s going to be quite a few of these trucks moving along." 

Ingram sampled soil along part of the proposed haul route to collect baseline data. She hopes to sample again after the hauling begins to monitor any changes in uranium levels.  

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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