By Steve Porter
Northern Colorado Business Report
November 9, 2007
Doctors have a sworn duty to do no harm, and in Larimer County that's extending to trying to prevent others from possibly doing so.
The Larimer County Medical Society's board of directors has gone on record as opposing a proposed uranium mining operation that would be located between Wellington and Nunn, just a few miles over the Weld County line.
And while Powertech USA officials have assured residents that the mining operation - if approved by the state - would be safe and well regulated, local physicians aren't buying it.
Michael Paddack, M.D., was one of the first in the LCMS to step forward and seek a group endorsement of a resolution that opposes uranium mining "in geographical areas that are utilized by the farming or ranching communities or where there are human residents, due to the adverse health conditions associated with the mining process..."
Paddack said he once practiced in the Cortez area in southwestern Colorado and remembers seeing numerous health conditions he attributes to a long history of uranium mining in that part of the state.
"We saw some strange diseases and a lot more lung cancer than you would expect to see in the general population," Paddack said, also noting more kidney problems, blood and bone cancers and birth defects than he believes would otherwise have occurred.
Cory Carroll, M.D., LCMS president, said he was enthusiastic about endorsing the resolution - which has since been offered for a statewide vote by the Colorado Medical Society - after hearing from Paddack and from representatives of CARD, or Citizens Against Resource Destruction. CARD is a local group opposed Powertech's plans because they say such an operation would likely contaminate local water supplies and cause long-term health problems.
Powertech has said its preferred method of extracting uranium from the 5,760 acres it owns mineral rights to would be in-situ mining, which involves injecting chemically treated water into the aquifer to loosen and remove uranium deposits embedded in it.
"Based on their information, I thought it was something the medical society should be involved with, and we passed a resolution," he said. "If we can generate interest with the Colorado Medical Society, that would be a great thing."
Issue to be addressed
Carroll said an Oct. 24 meeting of the LCMS, which included several state legislators, found both groups "overwhelmingly" agreeing that uranium mining in the state is an important issue that needs to be addressed. An informal survey of those present also found that neither the uranium industry nor the government was trusted to ensure the public would not be harmed by such operations.
Carroll said his mind is made up on the potential danger posed by Powertech's uranium mining plans. "I don't think for a second that we're not going to have a contaminated aquifer and the end result is adverse health to our population," he said.
Paddack said he has no qualms about speaking out against uranium mining. "I consider this a health issue that will directly affect the population in both Larimer and Weld counties," he said.
Mathew Uyemura, M.D., president of the Weld County Medical Society, said his group is looking into passing a similar resolution. "We want to make sure we research it before we do anything," he said. "But we're leaning on taking a position against the mining."
Paddack said the time to take action is now and not to wait until Powertech is going through the permitting phase of its plans, which is scheduled to take place in the latter part of 2009. Powertech spokesman Lane Douglas has said the company hopes to begin mining by mid-2010.
Paddack worries that government agencies will just make sure that Powertech has met all of its obligations under the law but not provide health protection to Northern Colorado residents. "We think the government has done a pretty poor job of protecting people in the past," he said.
"Most of these (diseases) are long-term effects (of mining) and not seen immediately," he added. "We're talking about things that could happen 10, 20, even 30 years from now."
Paddack said he believes the uranium industry has "an abysmal record" of cleaning up after itself despite its protestations to the contrary.
Paddack said doctors have a responsibility to be heard on issues such as uranium mining.
"As physicians, we'd like to think we know something about health," he said. "If we see something that we think is a threat to public health, we need to speak up about it."
Steve Porter covers health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-221-5400, ext. 225, or at