Clock is ticking on cancer screening

by David Boyle
News Director
Cancer screening for Monticello residents is once again being funded, but the funding is set to expire in May.
The Monticello Victims of Mill Tailing Exposure (VMTE) is once again providing a Cancer Screening Program funded by the federal government.
People who lived, worked or went to school in Monticello for three years or more between 1941 and 2002 may have been exposed to uranium mill tailings with links to specific cancers. The VMTE’s work provides funding for screening of those cancers.
In an interview with Red Rock Radio, Monticello Mayor Bayley Hedglin explained the origins of VMTE includes Monticello residents who advocated for the community. Among the instrumental organizers were Steve Young and Barbara Pipkin.
Hedglin explained, “They ended up out in D.C. petitioning the federal government to help pay some of the damages that were caused by the mill. The mill in Monticello was one of the only in the country that was run by the federal government and not by a private corporation. So helping those who have lived here with the long-lasting unfortunate effects of that mill.”
The county received funds for the program and are ready now to roll it out. San Juan Public Health Director Grant Sunada explained the county will help administer the program.
“It is a really unique situation, this was a government-run mill, the science and the technology just was not there at the time to consider the effect the mill would have on the community as a whole.
“If people don’t know, the Monticello Uranium Mill was right on the south end of town, through the 1950s and 60s. It did not have the safeties and protections in place.”
While modern uranium milling and mining has strict regulations, the mill in Monticello did not have protections in place, with some residents sharing stories of swimming in the mill tailing ponds.
While many Monticello residents from 1941 to 2002 didn’t have direct exposure, the public health message remains the same, if you lived, worked or went to school during that time period you should be screened.
“If you have been screened previously, maybe a few years ago, it’s time to do it again,” said Sunada. “We have a process in place so people can understand how it works, and so your individual healthcare provider can know what’s going on as well.”
Applications for screening vouches can be filled out online at Applications ask for evidence that you were in Monticello for three years between 1941 and 2002. Once the application is complete, you’ll receive a voucher along with cancer screening guidelines and information about the screening process and specific cancers that have been linked to the town.
“We want healthcare providers to watch out for things like hematologic cancers,” said Sunada. “Things like leukemia or myeloma, lymph, system cancers, lymphomas, thyroid, or pulmonary, lung or brachial. That’s a very common one from breathing in the tailings.
“Renal cancer such as bladder or kidney, and then also stomach cancers which would also broadly include gallbladder and esophageal. Those are the main ones we want healthcare providers to look out for. The screening may include things like a chest x–ray or urine analysis.”
Sunada explains San Juan Public Health will receive an invoice to pay for items not covered by insurance, including copay and out-of-pocket costs. The program also covers the uninsured. San Juan County healthcare providers have been contacted and are prepared to administer screenings.
The program is available for anyone who lived in Monticello during 1941-2002 which means many people who no longer live in the area. Those who moved away are eligible and have the same application process.
Any questions about receiving a voucher can be directed to San Juan Public Health by calling 435-587-3838
VMTE and the county hope as many people as possible use the funding, as it could possibly result in more screening funding and even help tell the story why funding for treatment should be covered.
VMTE has been telling that story for years now. Hedglin says the group of residents remain advocates.
“I think their greatest legacy, is not necessarily keeping this in the public eye, but keeping the federal government, helping, I guess is the best word.
“They have continued keeping these committees going to solicit funding from the federal government, and to make sure whoever is in my place or Grant’s place are aware and involved. I think that a ‘thank you’ isn’t enough for those guys.”
As with all cancers, early detection dramatically increases the likelihood of survival.
This round of funding is available through May, 2024. Sunada encourages those eligible to help family members and loved ones apply for the vouchers.
“We encourage you to remember that life is precious. Cherish life and cherish that time together. So have a conversation and set up some appointments.”

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday