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Uranium poisoning of the Navajo

The Forgotten Navajo: Uranium contamination  —Pavement Pieces  By Rachel Morgan on October 14, 2009

CHURCH ROCK, New Mexico — Teddy Nez’s home sits 500 feet from the mouth of abandoned uranium mine.

Since 1982, Nez and his family have been breathing in uranium particles and drinking uranium-contaminated water. They didn’t know the land that surrounded their home in Church Rock, N.M. – located on the 27,000 square-mile Navajo Reservation – was slowly killing them.

“We just assumed this was the way people lived,” Nez, 65, said. “But we came to find out the human risk factor.”

Nez has colon cancer, which he believes was caused by uranium contamination. From roughly the 1940s to the 1980s, the federal government contracted private mining companies to blast uranium ore out of the rocky terrain of Navajo Nation for the development of nuclear weapons during the Cold War as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project.

During that time, nearly 4 million tons of the radioactive ore were mined from the area.

Decades later, the deadly health risks of uranium mining are starting to materialize. Workers who mined the rock are being diagnosed with cancer, respiratory problems, liver disease and more.

Perhaps most troubling is the effect on young children, who are prone to developing Navajo Neuropathy, a rare degenerative disease of the peripheral nervous system caused by breathing in uranium particles in the air and drinking water contaminated by the deadly metal. Symptoms include the shriveling of hands and feet, muscular weakness, corneal ulcers, delayed walking, infections and stunted growth.

The disease is primarily diagnosed in children in their first year of life – and 40 percent of these children die before they reach their 20s. There is no cure…………

The L.A. Times reported in 2006 that cancer rates among the Navajos, once thought to be immune to cancer, doubled from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

According to the EPA, there are four primary ways the public can be exposed to the dangers of these radioactive materials: using uranium-contaminated rock as construction material, drinking uranium-contaminated water, breathing in uranium particles and being in the vicinity of the gamma radiation found in uranium.

Uranium mill tailings, leftover material from mining, are a radioactive, sand-like material that pose a variety of risks to anyone working or living in the vicinity of the mines, the EPA said…………………….

Perhaps the most concrete example of “institutionalized racism” was in 1979 when there was a massive uranium spill in Church Rock, Ariz., on Navajo land – the largest peacetime release of radiation in history. A dam holding back thousands of gallons of uranium-contaminated water burst, and 94 million gallons of radioactive water was released into the Rio Puerco. This massive spill occurred the same year as the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, which was cleaned up almost immediately. But 40 years later, the Navajos are still waiting.

Pavement Pieces » Blog Archive » The Forgotten Navajo: Uranium contamination

October 27, 2009 - Posted by | 1, indigenous issues, USA | , , , , , ,

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