Are Environmentalists Lying About Cancer Statistics to Prevent Uranium Mining?    | Home |
by James Finch

It's pretty easy to frighten a person. Just tell someone he or she will get cancer from something. Bringing up increased cancer rates caused by what one does, e.g. what one eats, where one lives, what chemicals one ingests and so forth, may be great coffee shop chatter. But, one should get their statistics and research in order before publicly pronouncing judgment on the source of a cancer. If they want to be taken seriously. Environmentalists may have some secret statistics generally unavailable to the public for which they insist uranium ISL (in situ leach mining) projects "might" cause an increase in cancer rates.

We met with Joseph J. Kolb, editor and publisher of The Gallup Herald to hear his thoughts about the proposed uranium ISL projects in Gallup area. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Kolb made his views known. Then, he preserved for posterity those comments in an editorial he published on November 13th. Kolb preached, "Uranium mining on the reservation can and has detrimentally affected Gallup… There have also been stories of the disproportionately high rate of breast, cervical and ovarian cancer here. Researchers continue to study the possible correlation between the 1979 spill (Puerco River valley spill) and its effect on the local cancer rate."

Kolb confided to us, "I know at least 15 women with breast cancer." He also claimed to have investigated the cancer statistics through the New Mexico Environmental Department and the American Cancer Society. In his mind, the transplanted ex-New Yorker Kolb blames Gallup's cancer rate on a uranium tailings spill, which occurred in 1979. At one point during the conversation, Kolb admitted he had previously thought uranium mining might have been good for the local economy because of the royalties such operations would throw off. Along the way, he changed his mind.

It sounds very convincing, and perhaps Kolb's readers swallowed his editorial rhetoric hook-line-and-sinker. Dr. Charles Wiggins, Director and Principal Investigator for the New Mexico Tumor Registry at the University of New Mexico's Cancer Research and Treatment Center, didn't. He scoffed at Kolb's claims and commented, "A lot of people say these things, but when I go in and investigate I invariably find out they are wrong." As an epidemiologist, Dr. Wiggins deals with the study of the causes of disease in populations.

Dr. Wiggins presented us with the most recent report of cancers among New Mexico American Indian females. The incident rate, between 1998 and 2002, was 48 deaths per 100,000. The breast cancer death rate, throughout New Mexico during the same time frame, was 110 per 100,000. In the Mountain States, comprising Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico, that rate rose to 119.4. For the entire Western United States, the death rate stood at 128.8, about the range for the national average of 124.9. That was 260 percent higher than the breast cancer rate for the American Indians in New Mexico, a group covered in this report. Hispanic women in New Mexico died from breast cancer at more than double that rate, during that time frame.

A frequent lament about uranium mining, found in the anti-nuclear propaganda, is the absolutely amazing high rate of lung cancer deaths suffered by the Navajo. Having been influenced by that party line, the Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley Jr. banned uranium on the reservation last April. Statistics provided by Dr. Wiggins demonstrate that the American Indian in New Mexico has one of the lowest lung cancer rates in the United States. Utah, a state with the lowest incidence of lung cancer deaths, has a rate more than 150 percent higher. Nationwide lung cancer death rates are more than 300 percent higher. White New Mexicans are more likely to die from lung cancer at a rate nearly four times higher than American Indians.

Dr. Wiggins minimized the impact of uranium contamination or ionizing radiation as the logic behind specific cancers. For example, when questioned about "increasing breast cancer rates," he cited changes in a woman's fertility (for example, birth control pills) and obesity as the main drivers. Wiggins said, "Higher breast cancer incidence occurs in Long Island (New York) or Marin County (California) because higher breast cancer rates were found mainly among rich, white people, not in Gallup, New Mexico.

According to actual University of New Mexico data, American Indian cancer statistics are lower than those for Anglos and Hispanics. Dr. Wiggins explained, "Of the 50,000 to 60,000 Navajos living in New Mexico, Navajos have about half the rate of cancer compared to Anglos and half the risk of developing cancer." Dr. Wiggins also noted that the Laguna Pueblo Indians living near the former Jackpile uranium mine have lower cancer rates compared to the rest of New Mexico. Dr. Wiggins agreed that the rate of kidney cancers had increased a bit, but explained it was caused by increased diabetes and obesity, not from another source.

According to the National Program of Cancer Registries, the range of ovarian deaths among women living in New Mexico is between 9.9 and 14.3 per 100,000, with an 11.9 average rate. The American Indian rate is 13.4, but the non-Hispanic white rate is 14.1. Nationally, the average for all races is 13.1. All statistics reported were for year 2002. Dr. Wiggins's research showed a rate of 13.4 among American Indian women for the period 1998 through 2002. The rate is neither alarming nor "disproportionately high" as Mr. Kolb suggested. There are other states with higher ovarian cancer rates among women, such as Montana, Washington, Nevada, Alabama, West Virginia, New Jersey and New York. It is similar to the ovarian cancer rate for the entire Western United States, but still lower than the Northeastern U.S.

When discussing cancer rate statistics, Craig Bartels, President of Hydro Resources which hopes to start ISL operations in New Mexico, also did his homework, "When you do the math, the Navajo cancer rate is 30% less than the general U.S. rate. Among the Navajo, 87.5 deaths of every 100,000 are cancer related. The U.S. is 125.6 deaths of every 100,000 are cancer related."

It is a troubling experience to realize how official and scientific statistics are readily dismissed by radical environmentalists. In Albuquerque, we discussed the University of New Mexico statistics with Southwest Research and Information Center, SRIC, office manager, Annette Aguayo, and editor of their in-house quarterly report, Voices from the Earth. Her response to our undercover editorial team? "Oh, those are government statistics. We don't trust those." Her comments makes one wonder where the New Mexico media, such as editor/publisher Joseph Kolb, get their statistics when blaming uranium mining for rising cancer rates. As Don Quixote sang in the musical, Man of La Mancha, "Facts are the enemy of truth." Might this also apply to the data SRIC has been supplying the local media and disseminating among the Navajos?

Joseph Kolb may have more woes on his mind than uranium mining. Recently, the Gallup Independent reported on Kolb's money woes. His weekly Gallup Herald continues to get sued and rack up printing bills. Since October, Intermountain Color, which won a judgment against Kolb's newspaper of $61,425, has tried to get the debt paid. The Albuquerque Publishing company filed a lawsuit against the Herald, seeking over $27,000 in unpaid invoices. It was reported Kolb owes nearly $11,000 to the "Navajo Times" for printing bills.

James Finch contributes to numerous publications. Article Source:

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