Informing Future Decision Making on Uranium Mining in Arizona: Science for Health and Environment

The USGS is conducting research at uranium-bearing breccia pipe deposits primarily on Federal lands and at a few locations on Tribal lands to address data gaps related to the potential effects of uranium exploration and mining activities on the Grand Canyon watershed, its people, wildlife, and water resources. Study locations include historic and active mines.

Habitats in the Grand Canyon watershed support diverse plants and animals that include threatened and endangered species as well as those that are culturally significant. Habitats that are close to the many springs throughout the region have a species diversity that is 100 to 500 times greater than that of the surrounding area. Research is being conducted to evaluate whether uranium exploration and mining can change these habitats and exposure to elements associated with the uranium ore deposits that include:

  • uranium, radium, and other radioactive decay products
  • arsenic
  • cadmium
  • cobalt
  • copper
  • lead
  • molybdenum
  • nickel
  • selenium
  • zinc

Prioritizing potential routes of exposure, including wind-borne dusts, surface- and groundwater, soil, sediment, and food-chain pathways, as well as describing and understanding interrelationships among routes and receptors, will improve our ability to describe risk at landscape scales and at various levels within the ecosystems of the Southwest. Understanding the risk of exposure from uranium exploration and mining is crucial for managing the resources of the Grand Canyon watershed, such as the Colorado River—a source of recreational and drinking water for upwards of 30 million people and a critical source of agricultural and industrial waters in the southwestern United States.

This research is supported by the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and Contaminant Biology Program of the USGS Environmental Health Mission Area. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Environmental Health Mission Area works to safeguard the Nation's health, economy, and resources by leading science to understand and minimize exposures to toxicological and infectious disease agents in the environment.

Recent Publications

U.S. Geological Survey Data Release

Amphibian acoustic data from the Arizona 1, Pinenut, and Canyon breccia pipe uranium mines in Arizona
By J.E., Hinck, B.R. Hossack, and R.K. Honeycutt

Diversity, v. 9, no. 54

Metabarcoding of Environmental DNA Samples to Explore the Use of Uranium Mine Containment Ponds as a Water Source for Wildlife
By K.E. Klymus, C.A. Richter, N. Thompson, and J.E. Hinck

Science Features

USGS Assesses Baseline Conditions Prior to Uranium Mining near Grand Canyon National Park

Scientists have collected and analyzed 84 environmental samples to establish baseline data prior to any active uranium mining activities at the Canyon Uranium Mine, located south of Grand Canyon National Park.

Conceptual Diagram of a Mine Site