AUSTIN, TX, Apr. 1, 2009 -- As early as the 1970s, levels of naturally occurring uranium in South Texas groundwater exceeded today's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for public drinking water supplies. The revealing data was discovered by the Texas Mining and Reclamation Association (TMRA) in a review of an extensive government database compiled by the federal government.
In 1973, the Atomic Energy Commission initiated the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) program to identify uranium resources in the United States. NURE investigators systematically sampled and analyzed groundwater across the United States to determine the levels of uranium and other chemical constituents in the water. Water from more than 17,000 wells in Texas was sampled by the investigators.
TMRA's analysis of the NURE data showed that in the South Texas Coastal Bend, where oil, gas and naturally occurring uranium have been historically found, high levels of uranium were already present in the groundwater before mining began. The NURE records identified over 400 wells throughout the state, including 108 wells in the Southern Coastal Bend Region. The tested water showed uranium concentrations above current EPA standards for public water supplies. The concentration of uranium in groundwater is a natural indicator of uranium mineralization and it is one of the factors that prompted mining companies to explore for the ore in South Texas Coastal Bend. In this area, many regional aquifers, including zones that supply water to the public, contain naturally occurring uranium in excess of the current EPA standard.
The NURE data confirms that the natural uranium levels in many aquifers were above today's EPA limits long before the existence of any uranium mines. The NURE data also shows that groundwater in other regions of Texas, such as the Panhandle, contain naturally high levels of uranium even though there was very little uranium exploration and no commercial mining in the area.
"The NURE data provides independent and historic proof that uranium is naturally present in groundwater around uranium deposits - exploration or no exploration - mining or no mining," TMRA Executive Director Shannon Lucas said. "Recent claims that groundwater in Texas has been contaminated by uranium mining activities are not accurate. In fact, there has never been a case of groundwater contamination in neighboring water supplies from in situ uranium recovery."
According to Lucas, EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act [for public drinking water supply] standard for uranium has called public attention to a long-standing situation, that naturally occurring uranium is present in much of the groundwater in Texas. The groundwater has not changed. What has changed is the EPA standard and the public's attention to it. Uranium, in one form or another, has been in some Texas groundwater since the geological formation of the region.
"When you see a drill rig exploring for natural uranium, it might discover an economically viable deposit of the mineral, but it will definitely discover groundwater you wouldn't want to drink," Lucas said.
TMRA is an industry trade association of approximately 100 state and national mining industry members. Among the resources mined in Texas by TMRA members are: clay; sand, gravel and stone; granite; gypsum; lime; silica; marble, lignite coal; and, uranium.