Navajo Nation Leader Calls for Efforts To Address Abandoned Uranium Mines on ReservationNavajo Nation Division of Health Executive Director Anslem Roanhorse told federal health officials at a tribal consultation session last week that a comprehensive research and assessment program with sufficient resources is needed to clean up the hundreds of abandoned radioactive uranium mines on American Indian reservations, Indian Country Today reports. Roanhorse was testifying at the bi-annual CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry Tribal Consultation session on the Environmental Public Health in Indian Country (Indian Country Today, 12/8).
Last year, Navajo tribal officials requested a minimum of $500 million to continue cleanup efforts of reservations exposed to decades-old retroactive material that has resulted in health and environmental damage. The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian homeland in the U.S. and encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 10/29/07).
Roanhorse said that there are 520 radioactive uranium mines on the reservation that were used primarily by the government between 1944 and 1986 and have been abandoned (Indian Country Today, 12/8). After the uranium was extracted from the soil, operators routinely left the tunnels, shafts and piles of radioactive waste open and exposed. Meanwhile, cancer rates among the tribe have doubled, and certain birth defects also have increased (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 10/29/07).
"Numerous publications reveal that Navajo uranium miners were exposed to the dangers of uranium for decades without the benefit of protective equipment and adequate ventilation to mitigate the dangers of this type of work," Roanhorse said, adding, "The Navajo Division of Health urges the CDC and ATSDR to be key partners by supporting a long-term, comprehensive assessment and research program with adequate personnel and resources, and to include adequate levels of funding consistent with the coordinated five-year plan" proposed by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in October 2007.
ATSDR official Tom Sinks said several government agencies are committed to addressing the problem (Indian Country Today, 12/8). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.