Impacts on the health of the local population will depend on the distance between the mine site and the community, and on the amount of radiation released by the mine site. Impacts need to be studied on a site-specific basis. Here are the main sources of concern:
Airborne dust: If dust containing radioactive elements is released from the site, it could impact the local population. Dust suppression and control measures are therefore very important. An accident, equipment malfunction or an extreme weather event could result in a release. Dust containing radioactive elements can also be created by the weathering, or breaking down, of mineralized rock over time.
Radon gas in the air: Radon gas, released from low concentration mineralized waste rock or expelled from the mine vents, is expected to be rapidly dispersed by air currents. There is little knowledge of how this affects local or more distant populations.
Water: Radioactive elements dissolve at different rates in water. The acidity of the water will also affect the rate of dissolution. If the rock also contains sulfides, this can acidify the water and increase the dissolution of the radioactive elements and other metals in the rock. If the local geology is somewhat permeable, this contaminated water (which may be acidic, contain toxic heavy metals and have some radioactivity) could reach local aquifers. Surface water (i.e. lakes, ditches, etc) can also be affected by site run-off water. For this reason, site run-off is usually collected in holding ponds and treated before being discharged into local lakes. An accident or an extreme weather event could result in untreated water or chemical products being released into the environment. The consequent risk to the population will depend on where drinking water is sourced. The quality of water discharges, as well as the quality of surrounding surface water and groundwater, must be monitored through sampling programs and are compared to government standards. The adequacy of standards and sampling programs (range of elements tested, testing frequency, testing locations) and the controls in place to address non-conformances are therefore very important.