Extracted from Human Health Impacts on the Navajo Nation from Uranium Mining
by Erin Klauk
Radioactive pollution is a serious threat to the welfare of the Navajo peoples. Some Navajo miners were exposed to high levels of radioactivity in mines and mills. One 1959 report found radiation levels ninety times acceptable limits (LUHNA, 2002 (more info) ). Of the 150 Navajo uranium miners who worked at the uranium mine in Shiprock, New Mexico until 1970, 133 died of lung cancer or various forms of fibrosis by 1980 ([Ali, 2003] ).
Because times were hard for the Navajo, most families were thankful when mining started on the reservation because they were given employment. Unfortunately, the people who operated the mines did not tell the Navajo of the danger that was associated with uranium mining. The miners and their families were forced to figure out the dangers on their own, from experiencing the illnesses themselves ([Brugge, 2000] ).
When mining ceased in the late 1970’s, mining companies walked away from the mines without sealing the tunnel openings, filling the gaping pits, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, or removing the piles of radioactive uranium ore and mine waste. Over 1,000 of these unsealed tunnels, unsealed pits and radioactive waste piles still remain on the Navajo reservation today, with Navajo families living within a hundred feet of the mine sites. The Navajo graze their livestock here, and have used radioactive mine tailings to build their homes. Navajo children play in the mines, and uranium mine tailings have turned up in school playgrounds (103rd Congress, 1994 ).
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