Digging up the facts
Deline uranium investigation coming
by Glen Korstrom
NNSL (Apr 20/98) - As three federal departments jointly launch an investigation into what happened when workers mined uranium and radium near Deline between 1932 and 1960, a former mine personnel manager is speaking out.
For months, if not years, many Sahtu residents have held suspicions about the safety of mining radium at Port Radium in the 1930s and mining uranium at Eldorado's mine in the 1940s and 1950s.
Studies first showed at least 18 workers had died of cancer. Then, put the total at nearer to 100 in the wake of a few unrelated studies.
But former personnel manager at Eldorado between 1946 and 1952, Bob Jenkins, now says many fears are blown out of proportion.
"How can someone transferring sacks of ore be exposed to more uranium than people in the mill crushing and bagging it," asked the 74-year-old retiree from his Penticton, B.C. home.
Deline Dene were only hired to haul the ore, as southern workers were hired to work in the mine.
"The ore sacks were double sacked, a canvas sack and a jute sack, so if one was ever broken there was a mammoth investigation reported," Jenkins said.
He also dismissed the likelihood of any traces of uranium along the Bear Rapids route.
"I would doubt very much whether there were one or two bags that were ever broken."
Jenkins did express concern about the workers inside the mine -- none of whom were Dene.
Uranium in its natural rock form does not release radon gas, he explained.
Though the ore does emit radioactive rays, detectable with a Geiger counter, it is the blasting, crushing and pulverizing in the mining process that releases the radon gas which only the inside miners breathed.
"Recovery methods were experimental so everything was new," said Jenkins.
Though the mine had ventilation, it was ineffective because cold air blew in and miners closed the hatches on the vents.
"It wasn't until the middle 1940s when they put in huge heaters to blow warm air in."
Jenkins said common sense said the work was dangerous.
"There was certainly awareness because there were blood samples taken as early as 1932. How are you going to take a persons blood without telling him what you're taking the blood for?" he asked.
As for skin exposure to uranium tailings, Jenkins accepts everyone was negligent -- to the point of playing baseball on a tailings lot each Canada Day.
Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development are now combining to unearth the truth after a thorough information-gathering mission, according to DIAND's director-general of natural resources and environment, Hiram Beaubier.