Southern Utah News Articles
A metaphorical metaphor
For the last month or so, we have listened to the description of the SRS Sand Mine project as an entity designed to produce clean, wholesome sand that is to be trucked away and used for a very worthy purpose in a distant place. Let’s, for the rest of this letter, look at this claim through the lens of hyperbole.
A slaughterhouse takes in young, healthy animals, cuts off their heads, hoofs and other useless parts, and sends appetizing hamburger, steaks and prime rib out the front door. Sounds good, but it’s the back door that I really want to call attention to. Through it passes the heads, hooves, skin, bones and guts, probably on their way to rendering plants.
Now, let’s look at the SRS project as a slaughterhouse. Through the front door comes beautiful red sand – approximately 4,000 tons a day (that’s eight million pounds) – which is washed clean, graded and separated into economically attractive sizes. Off in 40-ton dump trucks go the processed sand to its appointed use – but, again, I would like to take a look at the back door.
What is left over? The grains which are too big or too small are rejected, along with all the rest of the debris which has accumulated in the original dune. Without argument, I feel that it can be stipulated that fine sand, dust and other particulate matter in the original desert material is concentrated in the effluent wash water used to ‘clean’ the saleable product. I would particularly focus on the fine particulate matter, so fine that flocculants have to be used to precipitate and separate them from the slurry left after the wash cycle. (One drawback there is that these added coagulation chemicals have been determined to degrade into carcinogenic compounds.)
But, back to the metaphor: the slurry isn’t sent to a rendering plant – instead, it is separated from the reconstituted wash water and dumped into on-site holding ponds where it is allowed to evaporate to dust which then is spread over the now bare bedrock from whence it came – an attempt to ‘reclaim’ the landscape. Doesn’t that seem to create the perfect conditions for exacerbating dust storms, which are frequent phenomena in this region?
However, an even more disturbing aspect also rears it ugly head. During the 40-50 years between 1950 and 2000 more than 1,000 explosive atomic tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site. The infamous Downwinder corridor from that site extends eastward through St. George, Hurricane and Kanab. But the dispersal of atomic debris was not contained only within that area.
By using the atomic ‘finger-printing’ analogous to DNA matching, the contamination from the Nevada Test Site was traced to more than 3,000 counties throughout the U.S., from California to Massachusetts, and even to other countries. The fallout was so severe that children in St. George told stories of tracing their initials in the dust, which accumulated on car hoods, and of sliding on their snowboards down slopes covered with radioactive ash.
One such test is documented in a government report. Following is an extract:
“5/19/1953: The “Harry” test is conducted. Due to an unexpected change in the wind, “Harry” caused the highest amount of radioactive fallout of any test in the United States, contaminating the city of St. George, Utah. The test was later called “Dirty Harry.”
The fallout from that single test released more than 10 times the atomic pollution that the Chernobyl disaster produced – can you think the fallout stopped at St. George? And ‘Harry’ was not even the worst of the explosions. ‘Sedan’, a test performed about 10 years later, created a plume that catapulted 16,000 feet into the atmosphere, contaminating more U.S. residents than all of the other Nevada tests.
I can’t help but believe a significant fallout also accumulated over all the area surrounding the Red Knoll summit.
If I accept that premise, then I can’t escape the logical conclusion that the effluent from the SRS mine contains concentrated radioactivity (which never goes away – it only decays forever), which suggests the question – do the dust storms contemplated above also contain concentrated radioactive particles, as well as carcinogenic silica dust?
End of metaphor, but I feel that none of the problems suggested above have even been addressed, much less answered. Perhaps SITLA, BLM, Kane County and Kanab City should take a serious second look at the feasibility of the SRS LLC Sand Mine project.