Firefighting pilot takes tailings water

16 July 2007

[Associated Press, 13 July] The pilot of a firefighting helicopter tackling a wildfire near Long Lake, Washington state, USA, inadvertently scooped water from a defunct uranium mine tailings pond on 2 July. The helicopter took two bucketloads of water, totalling some 440 gallons (1665 litres), from the pond and dropped it over a large area of land. An official with Dawn Mining Co. promptly notified the state that the helicopter had removed water from the tailings pond and the pilot was directed to a nearby uncontaminated rainwater collection pond. The tailings pond is believed to have only relatively low levels of radiation. It holds waste from nearly 30 years of uranium ore processing. Most of the ore came from the nearby Midnite Mine, which is now a federal Superfund site undergoing a $152 million cleanup. Patty Henson, communications director for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, said that Dawn Mining conducted radiation tests on the day the water was removed. She said that "both the bucket itself and the water was tested for radioactivity, and it was found to not have contaminants." The Washington Department of Health is conducting its own tests to determine whether any radioactivity has been spread. Although the pond is clearly marked with warning signs on the ground, these would not have been easily seen by the pilot.

Further information

Washington State Department of Health

WNA's Environmental Aspects of Uranium Mining information paper