[ View the story "A radioactive legacy on Native American land" on Storify] A radioactive legacy on Native American land Uranium mining may have ceased on the Navajo Nation, but health and environmental problems persist.
AJAMStream· Fri, Aug 23 2013 13:23:49
The Navajo Nation spans the Four Corners area, where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. When the US Atomic Energy Commission
in 1948 that it would buy all uranium mined in the country, private corporations set up thousands of mines on Navajo Land.
Navajo were employed in uranium mines. Below, Navajo miners meet with their supervisor at the Monument Number 2 mine site in Arizona:
The economic activity brought by the uranium mines was accompanied by health problems. Navajo miners were found to be
28 times more likely to get lung cancer
Below, a man digs a grave for a Navajo miner who died of lung cancer:
The uranium mined on Navajo Land was used by the US government to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear power, but the radioactive waste from the mines remained on the land. The waste contaminated the land, air, and water, causing wider health effects for the surrounding communities.
In 1979, the dam holding the radioactive tailings from a Church Rock, New Mexico uranium mine
, releasing radioactive sludge and water that eventually contaminated 80 miles of riverbed, along with surrounding land, groundwater, and dusty air.
Widespread radioactive contamination led to a rise in birth defects. Navajo women living in areas with uranium mines in New Mexico and Arizona were between
two and eight times more likely to have a child with birth defects
than the national average. Many Navajo children were born with a disease of the nervous system that came to be known as "Navajo neuropathy":
Many with Navajo neuropathy die in their teens, but
lived until age 38. Her mother Lois drank rainwater from open-pit uranium mines during her pregnancies. Laura suffered from claw-like, cramped hands and muscle weakness - she would crawl around her home when not in her wheelchair.
The Navajo fought for decades to draw attention to the problems caused by the abandoned mines.
In 2007, Congress held a
to address the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission launched a
to clean up the worst sites starting in 2008.
Below, a Navajo activist documents the EPA's cleanup of the abandoned mine near her ancestral home:
Cleanup Continues in Monument ValleyGroundswellFilms
The EPA is working on releasing a new five-year plan to continue the cleanup effort. The plan will be released by the end of 2013.
For now, Navajo children are left with an EPA superhero,
, for education:
"Gamma Goat" is an EPA comic book that teaches Navajo children about radiation. Tonight's #AJAMSteam show 8/23/13elise_garofalo