Charmaine White Face: Radioactivity found in Pine Ridge waters

The following opinion by Charmaine White Face appeared in the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Charmaine White Face. Photo from Clean Up The Mines

Providing safe water for the Oglala Sioux Tribe
By Charmaine White Face, Defenders of the Black Hills

For a number of years, one of our projects has been monitoring nuclear radioactivity in the water and air in the 1868 Treaty Territory, including the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The health effects from exposure to radioactivity, especially low dose over lengths of time, include more than just cancer. The health effects also include diabetes, lupus, miscarriages, birth defects, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others. We in the Northern Great Plains happen to have the highest cancer rate in the country. Now, doctors and scientists also say that “no dose of radioactivity is safe.”

Last summer, we tested the water from a house in the middle of Red Shirt Village and our results showed the water contained high levels of Thorium which is the first stage in the decay process of naturally occurring Uranium. Thorium then changes into a number of other radioactive elements, including Rare Earth elements, and is more prized than Uranium.

We also learned that all the domestic water on the Reservation comes from five (5) deep wells with the exception of Wanblee which gets their water from the Mni Wiconi Pipeline. The wells are at Kyle, Porcupine, Manderson, Pine Ridge, and Oglala. The water at Red Shirt comes from the deep well at Kyle.

In order to have a more factual picture of the radioactivity in the Reservation water, we did additional tests from three (3) of the deep wells: Kyle which is Red Shirt Village, Pine Ridge, and Oglala as the tests cost more than $500 each.

In all the tests, the Thorium levels were very high. However, another aspect of the tests was the ratio of naturally occurring Uranium with mined Uranium. The mined Uranium (U-234) is actually twice as high as the naturally occurring Uranium (U238) meaning man-made disturbances to the Arikaree aquifer. This ratio is not natural at all.

The ratio levels at Oglala are higher in Thorium and Oglala is closer to the Crow Butte Uranium mine at Crawford, NB. The process used at Crow Butte dissolves the Uranium and other minerals while it is in the Arikaree aquifer, but it cannot be controlled; only watched as it spreads. Our results indicate the radioactive pollution has spread all over in the aquifer underneath the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The OST Water Maintenance and Conservation (OSTWMC) department is doing their job according to the mandates of the EPA. We sent our first results to OSTWMC, the Tribal Council, and President Bryan Brewer last summer. The OSTWMC sent our results on to the EPA’s Regional office in Denver which stated that the OSTWMC has been “complying with the requirements of the Radionuclides Rule” established by the EPA.

However, it is EPA that has not been regulating ALL radioactive materials. From EPA’s own publication, “Radionuclides in Drinking Water: A Small Entity Compliance Guide” page 16 states:
“EPA recognizes that there is an error in the Rule’s language as relates to the beta and photon emitters CCR language, which appears verbatim in the table above. The beta and photon emitters that EPA regulates are all man made, and the sources of these regulated contaminants are their improper use, storage, discharge, and disposal from commercial, industrial, and military activities. The health effects language refers to minerals that are radioactive. The Rule, however, applies only to man-made substances that do not occur in mineral form.”
The Thorium that we found in the water tests we have taken is in natural, mineral form, and is NOT man-made. Therefore, the OSTWMC would be in compliance with EPA. We are not talking about the OSTWMC, only about the radioactive pollution in the water.

As Thorium is a beta and photon emitter, the health effects of this naturally occurring mineral would be affecting the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation, and this type of Thorium is not regulated by the EPA. This does not mean that it is less dangerous, only that the EPA doesn’t watch or regulate it.

Some courses of action that need to be taken:

1. Bottled water, not taken from any well going into the Arikaree aquifer, should be made immediately available for all the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation for their domestic use and for their animals.

2. An organization called Veterans for Peace has offered to provide the initial filtration system for the five (5) deep wells to collect all the radioactive particles, which in this case would be Thorium, Uranium 234 (also known as yellow cake), and Uranium 238.

3. There are companies that are currently buying Thorium. Contacting them and selling the filters containing the radioactive particles, especially the high levels of Thorium, would provide a way to economically replace the filters.

4. The ultimate responsibility for the good health and good water for all the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation is mandated to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Indian Health Service. Just because EPA does not regulate naturally occurring Thorium, or other Beta and photon emitters, does not release any of them from their ultimate responsibility.

Legal action might be the only recourse to insure the BIA, IHS, and EPA do their jobs properly and provide for good, safe water for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the environment of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

If you have any questions, or wish to have copies of any of the information mentioned in this report, please let us know and it will gladly be provided. Email:

(Charmaine White Face, Coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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