The debate around proposed new uranium mining in the American Southwest is fueled by uncertainties in both the health and geosciences. The controversies are centered around 2 areas: 1) the effectiveness of contaminant plume control during mining, site restoration and long term stabilization by natural attenuation, and 2) potential long-term health effects for exposed indigenous populations Strong stands are being taken by proponents and opponents of new mining on places such as the Navajo Reservation. In many cases, the disagreements are related to the practice of predicting future system performance and health effects by extrapolating from historical health data and engineering case studies that may not applicable to site-specific proposed mining practices or conditions.
Demonstration of the efficacy of site restoration to the earth scientist rests on assurance that a low-concentration plume will dissipate, be irreversibly sequestered or have no potential to reach a susceptible population. This is difficult because of uncertainties in both geochemical and hydrologic data. This presentation will provide an overview of key aspects of the recent history of in situ mining and assessments of the potential role for natural attenuation as predicted by laboratory, field and modeling studies.
For the health professional, acceptance for future mining will require demonstration that vulnerable populations will not be negatively impacted by uranium exposures. This depends, in part on demonstrating that current exposure limits are sufficiently protective of susceptible populations. This talk will highlight some of the sources of major uncertainties in the data and methods used to determine the possible risks to potentially exposed populations, including challenges to assessing low-level, chronic exposures and identifying relevant health effects.
It may not be possible to obtain agreement between the opposing sides in the emotional debate over uranium mining, however, a holistic approach, which addresses the relative importance and uncertainties of key parameters and models is needed to advance the discussion. This talk will attempt to identify the reducible and irreducible risks associated with new uranium mining and explore the potential role of Medical Geology in bridging the gap between the sciences and sides in this controversial debate.
Malcolm Siegel Bio
Malcolm Sielgel received a BA in Chemistry in 1973 from Columbia University. In his senior year, he was lured away from lab chemistry by Wallace Broecker from Columbia with the temptation of spending a post-graduate year at sea as a marine chemist in the South Seas. Due to changes in project funding, he didn't get his marine experience until the following year, when he was a member of the Harvard University team on the French American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study Project and then again in 1976-1977 when he worked at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnologic Institute in Haifa, Israel. He completed his PhD in Geology at Harvard in 1981, working with Heinrich Holland of Harvard and Roger Burns of MIT, focusing on the mineralogy, geochemistry, and economic potential of marine manganese nodules.
In 1981, he began a 30-year career at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, where he carried out applied research in the areas of environmental geochemistry, groundwater remediation, drinking water treatment and risk assessment. During the first part of that period, he led project teams examining the geochemistry and potential radionuclide transport from the proposed nuclear waste geologic repositories sites in New Mexico and. In the second phase of his career at Sandia, he led Department of Energy programs to evaluate the use of innovative environmental remediation and treatment technologies to clean up groundwater and soil contamination at DOE Weapon fabrication sites and to remove arsenic from drinking water sources in rural New Mexican communities.
It wasn't until he was in his mid-50's that Malcolm discovered that he wanted to be a Medical Geologist when he grew up. In 2004, he received a Masters of Public Health/Epidemiology from the School of Medicine at the University of New Mexico. He retired from Sandia Labs in December 2011 and is currently is on the adjunct faculty in the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the School of Medicine, University of New Mexico. In this position, he conducts research examining the potential relationships between uranium, arsenic and ultra-violet exposures and public health and is active in designing the environmental health program for a proposed College of Public Health. He is active in the Medical Geology community, serving on the organizing committee for the recent international conference sponsored by the International Medical Geology Association and the Geological Society of America.
Malcolm is also active in several non-profit organizations dealing with science education and with environmental assistance in developing countries. These include the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the Explora Museum, Engineers without Borders, the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico and the Water Resources Action Project, which builds rain water harvesting systems connected to environmental education programs in Jerusalem, Palestine and Israel.