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Public Health Rep. 1996 Mar-Apr; 111(2): 116–127.
PMCID: PMC1381715

The yellowed archives of yellowcake.


Extensive historical documentation of exposures and releases at government-owned energy facilities is a unique and valuable resource for analyzing and communicating health risks. Facilities at all stages of the atomic fuel cycle were the subject of numerous industrial hygiene, occupational health, and environmental assessments during the Cold War period. Uranium mines and mills on the Colorado Plateau were investigated as early as the 1940s. One such facility was the mill in Monticello, Utah, which began operation as a vanadium extraction plant in 1943 and was later adapted to recover uranium from carnotite ores. The mill ceased operation in 1960. The site was added to the federal Superfund list in 1986. ATSDR held public availability sessions in 1993 as part of its public health assessment process, at which several former mill workers voiced health concerns. An extensive literature search yielded several industrial hygiene evaluations of the Monticello mill and health studies that included Monticello workers, only two of which had been published in the peer-reviewed literature. In combination with the broader scientific literature, these historical reports provide a partial basis for responding to mill workers' contemporary health concerns. The strengths and limitations of the available exposure data for analytical epidemiologic studies and dose reconstruction are discussed. As an interim measure, the available historical documentation may be especially helpful in communicating about health risks with workers and communities in ways that acknowledge the historical context of their experience.

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