By Rosanne Boyett | Cibola Beacon

CIBOLA COUNTY – The state House Health Committee tabled HB 494 last week, according to a recent press release.

HB 494 supports the creation of a community health fund to study the impacts that uranium mining pollution poses to public health. The Senate companion bill SB 610, sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., has yet to be heard.

Several case studies have found that there are links between uranium exposure and health problems. A 2000 University of New Mexico study found that kidney disease, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases were more prevalent among people that lived closer to mine waste sites. It also found that birth defects are often connected to radiation exposure. State health assessments found that between 2008 and 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death in McKinley County. Despite this statistic, there is no system in place to monitor health conditions as it relates to the uranium waste sites or industrial processes.

Another bill, SB 599, received a “do pass” from the Senate Conservation Committee earlier this month. The bill proposes identifying a repository for uranium mining wastes. “This is good news for those of us who have been asking for this for several years,” said Jonnie Head, whose house faces the Homestake Mine tailings piles near Milan. Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance members have been urging Barrick-Gold, Homestake’s parent company, to remove the tailings piles.

Legacy waste sites from uranium mining endangers natural resources and poses severe risks to public health, according to numerous Cibola County residents There is currently no process in place to study the impacts that environmental degradation has on the quality of health over time said CVNM officials.

“Many of New Mexico’s communities – from rural to Tribal – have experienced the consequences of environmental degradation and poor conservation policy decisions. Decades have passed since uranium mining occurred actively in New Mexico and a comprehensive health study of the Grants Mineral Belt communities has never been conducted. This bill, HB 494, would have helped right this wrong while holding companies accountable for the contamination they left behind,” said Demis Foster, Conservation Voters New Mexico executive director.

“Our state is the home of the largest radioactive spill in history. We have three uranium Superfund sites in the region (northwestern New Mexico). In order for us as elected officials to make informed decisions about the health of our communities, we need this kind of tool to properly understand the impacts these processes have on communities over time and guide long-term community planning that supports sustainable development,” said Rep. Georgene Louis.

“A baseline health study is a basic step; it is needed to move forward to legitimize the effects of uranium and determine if it is a big factor in health around these sites,” James Dennison, Fort Wingate resident, said at Saturday’s hearing in Santa Fe.