New research shows areas formerly mined for uranium near the Grand Canyon have slightly elevated levels of uranium in the water, but that the majority of wells, springs and streams would be fit to drink under EPA standards.
The findings are important because they will be at the heart of data used by the Interior Department as it debates whether to allow or prohibit new uranium mines on the Arizona Strip amid renewed federal interest in nuclear power.
Researchers took 1,014 water samples in the region, including downstream of former uranium mines, and found that water exceeded a contaminant level for one or more elements 7 percent of the time.
Uranium was one of the contaminants.
Fifteen springs and five wells of those sampled contained uranium levels higher than what the EPA considers safe for drinking water, and they were located next to or downstream from known ore deposits, researchers wrote in a 353-page report.
In those areas not mined, researchers found uranium in the water averaged less than 1 to 20.6 parts per billion. Where mines existed, uranium averaged 2 to 19.5 parts per billion in the water.
For more on the study and its implication for a resumption of uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau, see Friday's Arizona Daily Sun.