The Deadly Legacy of Uranium Mining

First Posted: Apr 12, 2016 07:18 AM EDT

A few miles across Arizona, Mexico and Utah, the federal government has been cleaning up what is left of uranium mining within the Navajo nation. This is done because of the fatal consequences of uranium contamination where a number of Navajo people died of cancer and kidney failure. What is even worse can be seen in the CDC study showing uranium in babies born now.

As reported on NPR, between 1944 and 1986, 4 million tons of uranium were blasted by mining companies out of Navajo land. The ore was used for making atomic weapons. When the Cold War petered out, the mining companies abandoned over five hundred mines.

Maria Welch works for the Southwest Research Information Center as a field researcher. She surveys Navajo families for the Navajo Birth Cohort Study, involving 599 participants thus far. The Southwest Research Information Center (SRIC) works with state and local groups as well as with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in measuring the effects of uranium on Navajo people.

In one of her surveys involving infant-feeding practice, she found out that the Navajo tribe lacked the running water, and also learned that mothers mix their baby formula with just tap water as cited on Southwest Research Information Center. Furthermore, it was revealed that 27% of the study's respondents have high levels of uranium in their urine.

Many of these mining companies were already gone after by the U.S. Justice Department. The Environmental Protection Agency, since 2008, has taken away thousands of cubic yards of mine waste. It has also rebuilt almost fifty contaminated homes according to Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Regional Administrator. However, he believed that the work is not yet over. "We're spending a lot of time making sure that the polluters pay, so it isn't the federal taxpayer," Blumenfeld said.

A whopping $1 billion was very recently paid by Anadarko Petroleum and its subsidiary Kerr-McGee to Navajo Nation for cleanup as well as to compensate the Navajo families who have been living with the impacts of uranium contamination. On the other hand, the federal government had just begun the cleanup although it has already known about the detriments of uranium contamination decades ago.

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