"Abandoned Mines Cover The West"

"Their legacy is destruction and pollution of lands and waters."

"In 1953, the Anaconda Minerals Company leased nearly 8,000 acres of land in central New Mexico from the Pueblo of Laguna to mine uranium for nuclear weapons. The company gouged and blasted away at the earth, constructing the three massive holes known as the Jackpile-Paguate Mine.

The Jackpile-Paguate became the world's largest open-pit uranium mine, producing some 24 million tons of ore. It employed hundreds of Laguna Pueblo members and transformed the community's economy. But mining companies and regulators gave little thought to the safety of miners and nearby residents. Miners were exposed to radioactive and toxic heavy metals daily, even spending their lunch breaks sitting on piles of radioactive ore. Blasting sent tremors through the pueblo's adobe homes, and a cloud of poisonous dust drifted into the village of Paguate, just 2,000 feet from the mine, coating fruit trees, gardens, corn and meat that was set out to dry.

In 1982, uranium prices plummeted, and Atlantic Richfield, Anaconda's successor, shut up shop, conducted a cursory reclamation and walked away.

But the pollution didn't end when the Jackpile closed. A toxic plume continued to spread through groundwater aquifers, and the Rio Paguate, a Rio Grande tributary, remains contaminated more than a decade after the facility became a Superfund site, despite millions of dollars in cleanup work. And Laguna residents and former mine workers still suffer lingering health problems -- cancer, respiratory illnesses and kidney disease --  from the mine and its pollution."

Jonathan Thompson reports for High Country News July 1, 2024.

Source: High Country News, 07/10/2024