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16 : A Widow Fights Back

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

Tex Garner didn’t know he had less than twenty-four hours to live.1 It had been one week since the doctor, talking of “cancer” and “one to fifteen years,” dismissed him from St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and sent him home to Moab. Tex was a bit tired, but there wasn’t much pain in his lungs and the scar from his liver biopsy was fading already. He thought he was making good progress. In no time, he’d be pitching a few innings and showing the kids how he could walk on his hands all around the front yard. The old Garner optimism was returning.

“Fifteen years?” he would say, negating the possibility of anything less. “Let’s see. I’m forty-seven now. Sixty-two is not a bad age to die.”

It was a pleasant time of year. The September sunshine was taking on a bit of crisp and the leaves were just beginning to blend with the red and gold cliffs surrounding Moab. Tex had been underground in the uranium mines for so many years that he had almost forgotten the brilliance of fall—summer’s last gasp before the brown chill of winter. He spent his days resting under the peach trees that shaded the red and white mobile home on Cliffview Drive, below the mansion where Charlie Steen had lived before he moved to Reno. Sometimes Tex would pick a plump fruit and watch the RVs filing along the highway leading into town. Fall brought out hordes of retirees who had postponed their wanderings until vacationing families returned their kids to school. It would be less crowded, then, at Arches National Monument, Deadhorse Point, and other geologic wonderlands where tourists flocked after mining roads in uranium country had opened up the backlands.

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14 : The American Experience

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

“It’s started,” Dr. Victor Archer thought.

The new medical director of the uranium miner study laid the letter on his desk and sighed. It wasn’t much. Nothing conclusive. Not enough to prove that the “European Experience” was being repeated in America. But the report Archer received from Uravan, Colorado, that day in September 1956, read like a portent.

Dr. David J, Berman had admitted a patient named Tom Van Arsdale to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. Van Arsdale, a fifty-one-year-old hardrock miner from Nucla, Colorado, had spent over half of the past sixteen years working in uranium mines. He had received a physical from the Public Health Service field examiners in 1953 and was part of the uranium miner study cohort. He had lung cancer.

Although the thirty-four-year-old surgeon and radiation specialist had only recently taken over Dr. James Egan’s duties at the Salt Lake field station, Archer recognized that there were indisputable parallels to be drawn between Van Arsdale and his Old World counterparts. The average age of the German and Czechoslovakian miners who died of lung cancer was forty-seven. Van Arsdale was fifty-one. Most of the European workers had died approximately seventeen years after their first exposure to uranium. It had been sixteen years since Van Arsdale’s initial contact. Typically, the foreign miners died within months of their diagnosis. Accordingly, Van Arsdale’s days might be limited.

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4 : Deadly Daughters

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

IT WAS A TYPICAL FEBRUARY DAY in Salt Lake City. Grey. Cold. Intermittent blizzards raged over dirty corn snow speckled with dead leaves exposed by a false spring thaw. Duncan Holaday, sitting in his office in the two-story wooden building that used to be a World War 11 army barracks, couldn’t even see the city in the valley below. Showers of snowflakes blocked out the granite Mormon temple spires topped by the golden statue of Moroni blowing his trumpet. The Walker Bank, Utah’s sixteen-story “skyscraper,” was invisible. The Great Salt Lake, pewter-colored, disappeared into the whitened west.

The Public Health Service Occupational Health Field Station stood in the foothills of the snowclad Wasatch Mountains, on the east bench of the valley. It was a small island tucked away from the real world. The difficulty Duncan Holaday was having getting people to heed his warnings made him feel even more isolated.

He had been on the phone all morning. Calls to Blair Burwell of Climax Uranium Company, J.H. Hill of U.S. Vanadium, Howard Balsley, secretary of the Independent Vanadium and Uranium Producers Association, and Denny Viles of Vanadium Corporation of America. When his requests for meetings were met with polite acquiescence, he set up a series of appointments at various offices in Grand Junction, Moab, Cortez and Durango, Colorado, and Salt Lake City for mid-March. State and federal health and mining officials would join the discussions. Holaday hoped the meetings wouldn’t be a replay of old scenarios . . . his reports on radon counts in the mines and mills . . . his suggestions for ways the companies could reduce the radiation hazard through increased ventilation, use of respirators, and other safety practices . . . their show of concern and promises of change that resulted in little action.

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20 : Aftermath

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

“People have got to learn to live with the facts of life, and part of the facts of life are fallout,” said AEC commissioner and noted scientist, Willard F. Libby, at a commission meeting on February 23, 1955.

“I was a teacher in Panguitch in ‘51 when the testing started,” said Irene McEwen of St. George. “One day after a blast it was my turn to take my phys ed class out on the field, and I didn’t want to because I’d read about Hiroshima. But the principal told me I had to. Later he died of cancer. So did three of my students. So did the other phys ed teacher.”1

“Of course, we want to keep the fallout in our tests to the absolute minimum, and we are learning to do just that,” AEC Chairman Lewis L. Strauss wrote November 21, 1957, in response to a petition from Martha Bordoli Laird. “But the dangers that might occur from the fallout involve a small sacrifice when compared to the infinitely greater evil of the use of nuclear bombs in war.”2

“I do not consider my son’s death a small sacrifice,” Mrs. Bordoli responded.3

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15 : Senator Steen

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

In 1958, people weren’t calling Charlie Steen “that crazy Texan” anymore. It was hard to ridicule a guy who had parlayed his geologic hunches into a bonanza and triggered a modern-day prospecting rush. Steen’s Uranium Reduction Company mill, which processed some seventeen hundred tons of ore per day, had the largest payroll in Grand County. Utex Exploration Company was one of the area’s biggest property owners. Besides its mines, the corporation held twenty-one rental homes, eight executive residences, and acres of commercial and residential land. Moab Drilling Company dominated the field in local mine exploration activities.

And Charlie Steen had shared his good fortune—with the business community, the schools, the new hospital, the churches. To say nothing of the annual party Utex threw every year, which got grander and grander.

Public honors had been showered on Steen. On March 1, 1957, Orval Hafen, president of the Utah State Senate, read a resolution of appreciation to “our distinguished fellow citizen, Charles A. Steen,” who has “rendered valuable service to the people of the State of Utah through his untiring efforts to develop the uranium mining industry in the State. . . .”

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