Local leaders of the Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure (VMTE) were elated last week to receive an additional $381,000 in federal funding. This money, along with funds already received, and an application for another grant next year, will go a long way toward the goal of screening everyone who has ever lived in Monticello and surrounding areas for cancer. Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett were instrumental in obtaining this new funding.
A display of 257 portraits of local people who presently have cancer or who have died of cancer was placed in the Monticello Post Office the week of March 16-20.
The VMTE Committee has identified 16 others since the display was made. In all, a total of 533 present and former residents now have had cancer or have died of cancer. That is several times higher than cancer rates in most areas of the country.
What this funding means is that anyone who lived in the Monticello area between l941 and 2000 can go to the State Health Deptartment Office in the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello and, after proving residency during at least a few of those years, receive a voucher.
The voucher holder may then receive a complete screening at the San Juan Hospital. The screening will ascertain whether or not the voucher bearer has any symptoms of cancer through extensive blood work and other tests.
Early detection makes a huge difference in cancer cure and survival rates. Everyone is encouraged to get the testing done. All costs associated with screenings are paid by the federal funds already received and promised in the future.
The VMTE group has worked tirelessly for years to get the Federal Government to admit that there is a relationship between the abnormally high cancer rates in Monticello and the Uranium-Vanadium Mill which operated in Monticello from l941 until l960. There were 903,000 tons of radioactive tailings left uncovered on 40 acres at the south city limits of Monticello after the mill closed.
During the 19 years of operation, the mill discharged thousands of tons of radioactive materials, poisonous gases, chemicals, heavy metals from a large smoke stack which spewed 2,600 pounds of contaminants daily. The prevailing south winds scattered the residues across the community. People complained for years at the corrosion of chrome on their cars, fencing, aluminum windows, galvanized roofs and clotheslines, as well as the clothes hanging on the line.
In l960, Monticello residents experienced a rash of leukemia deaths, including four children. Not until 1986 was the mill site added to the nation’s list of contaminated sites.
Beginning in 1992, a $200 million dollar federally financed cleanup of the mill site and 425 private properties in and around Monticello was begun. By 2000, the last of the contaminated tailings were relocated to a massive, lined disposal pit to the south of the original mill site.
While Monticello has paid a huge price for it’s involvement with early radioactive materials, the community can also be very proud of the enormous contribution the town made to winning World War II and the Cold War. The mill in Monticello is the only one the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) owned. Much of the U-238 necessary to build the bombs, and other strategic weapons which won the war, came from Monticello.
It is the hope of many in Monticello that eventually there will be built on the old mill site a history of Monticello’s role in the Atomic Age and a memorial for the citizens who died as a result.
The VMTE Committee and Monticello Citizens hope outsiders who might think of living in this area will realize that the cleanup is a decade old; that Monticello has some of the cleanest ambient air in the nation, and compared to other areas, the air and environment is much cleaner here. DOE testing at the site will be ongoing for years to insure that the area remains clean.