While antinuclear forces are attempting to shut down uranium mines because of possible radiation dangers, hundreds of persons are sitting in abandoned mines here in the belief that it will cure their ailments.
Hoping to rid themselves of ailments ranging from asthma to arthritis, they are coming from throughout the United States, Canada and Europe to breathe radioactive radon gas and drink from an underground spring water in the mines.
In the Free Enterprise mine people take an elevator 85 feet into the ground and sit on automobile cushions in street clothes, talking, sleeping or reading for three, 1 1/2 hour sessions a day at $4 each visit in the winter.
"We don't claim the mine has healing powers," said John Lewis, Free Enterprise manager. "But we've got affidavits from many people who claim they've been cured by their visits."
The Free Enterprise has been in this business since 1952.
One visitor from the Midwest coming across the mines while looking for ghost towns in Montana, was appalled.
Charles Honaker, director of communication for the American College of Radiology in Chicago, is a medical writer. He's done a lot of writing on the effects of radiation.
"I was horrified at the idea of people drinking the water from the mines," Honaker said. "It's been proven that breathing radon gas into the lungs produces a very high rate of lung cancer among uranium miners," he said.
The mines, located between Boulder and Basin in southwestern Montana include the Earth Angel, Free Enterprise, Pulpit Rock, Merry Widow and Sunshine.
The State Occupational Safety and Health Brueau has been making periodic checks at the health mines since 1971, according to bureau chief Larry Lloyd.
"The water from the underground spring meets federal standards for drinking water," he said.
His bureau notifies each mine of the maximum number of hours that people can safely breath the air that contains radon gas. For example, they can spend a total of 13 hours a year in the Earth Angel and 32 hours a year in the Free Enterprise, according to bureau rules.
Dr. Stanley Skinner, Boulder's only physician said the people who come to Boulder to visit the mines are "usually older people who are suffering from some chronic condition. Physicians haven't been able to help them. The mines are a last resort, a hope."
Ahtough it's never been scientifically proven that the mines are beneficial, Skinner said he has talked to many people who said time spent breathing the mine air has helped them.
He also sees people whose health hasn't been improved by mine visits.
"They seek out the local doctor if their condition deteriorates while they're here," he said.
The majority of those who come to the mines suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease characterized by inflamation of the joints and stiffness in the limbs. Other suffer from such ailments as bursitis, asthma, emphysema or sinus condition.
One person who is sold on the mine's curative powers is Boulder Mayor George Christinansen, who has been going to the mines since 1956. He has arthritis.
"Visits seem to make the entire system percolate better," Christiansen said. "They say the air stimulates the whole endocrine gland system, respecially the pituitary gland."
One man who said he improved his sinus condition by visiting a mine was Tom Dawson of Boulder, deputy sheriff for Jefferson County.
He went to a health mine a couple of times two years ago, in hopes that his sinus condition would improve, he said.
"I haven't had any problems since then," he said.