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What uranium mining and milling have done to Navajo lands

NavajoThe Curse of the Yellow Powder, Bacon’s Rebellion, by Rose Jenkins   December 2, 2012 Is it possible to restore a landscape damaged by uranium? Ask the Navajo in New Mexico. “……There are 520 abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation. Navajo territory extends over 27,000 square miles in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. In this sparsely populated desert, approximately 30% of the population is not connected to a public water supply, so people drink from the sources available, including springs and private wells.
Out of approximately 375 Navajo water sources tested by various agencies, according to data compiled by SRIC, more than a quarter contain excess levels of contaminants that could derive from uranium operations — including arsenic in 17% and uranium in 10%.
In response, the EPA shut down three of the most contaminated sources. The agency is also working with local partners, including SRIC,to publicize warnings about hazardous water sources and to provide safe drinking water for thousands of homes. That addresses people’s immediate needs, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying problem — the polluted groundwater.
I asked the EPA if there was any chance the groundwater could ever be treated enough to be safe to drink.
“Our first goal is to make sure people are not being exposed to contaminated groundwater,” Rusty Harris-Bishop, an EPA spokesperson, told me………

In Yellow Dirt, journalist Judy Pasternak describes how thoroughly the leavings of uranium operations infiltrated Navajo people’s lives. Pregnant women drank water from lakes left by pit mines. Families built foundations and stucco walls out of the sandy mine wastes. Children played on tailings piles. Livestock grazed around the mouths of unreclaimed mines (and still do, according to a recentNew York Times article). Pasternak chronicles case after case of lung cancer, stomach cancer, children with deformities — death after death.

The Navajo decided that they have reason enough to be done with uranium extraction, at least while so many problems remain. In 2005, the tribe passed the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act, banning uranium mining and milling on their lands. The act states as its purpose: “to ensure that no further damage to the culture, society and economy of the Navajo Nation occurs because of uranium mining… [and] processing, until all adverse environmental, economic and human health impacts from past uranium mining and processing have been eliminated or substantially reduced.”……”

December 3, 2012 - Posted by | indigenous issues, Uranium, USA

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