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Human Health Impacts on the Navajo Nation from Uranium Mining

This page was written by Erin Klauk as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education.

Mary Frank of the Navajo Nation. Details

Radioactive pollution is a serious threat to the welfare of the Navajo people. 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 ).

Paul Nakaidenae of Red Valley, Arizona. Details

To further investigate human health impacts from uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, follow the links below.

Online Resources about the Human Health Impacts of the Navajo

Online resources containing information about the human health impacts of the Navajo Nation:

  • Uranium Human Health Fact Sheet (more info) This two-page PDF fact sheet briefly describes uranium; what it is, where it comes from, and how it is used. Information is also provided about the human health risks of uranium, including the different manners in which it can be ingested and what happens when it enters the body.
  • Uranium Radiation Dangers on the Navajo Nation (more info) This site, produced by the Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, is an all-Navajo organization that focuses on alternative uses of natural resources and mitigating the effects of uranium mining and forestry on the Navajo Nation. The site provides information about the history of uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation, the effects of radiation exposure on the human body, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, prevention of future uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, and a proposal to using geographical information systems technology to document the continued effects of uranium mines on the Navajo people.
  • Memories Come To Us In the Rain and the Wind (more info) This source provides interviews with Navajo uranium miners and their families. The interviews and photographs are taken from the recently published book 'Memories Come To Us In the Rain and the Wind', directed by Doug Brugge. This site also provides links to related web pages including Navajo Uranium Miners fight for Compensation and Leetso: the Powerful Yellow Monster.
  • Toxicological Profile for Uranium (more info) The Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry Toxicological Profile succinctly characterizes toxicological and adverse health effects information for uranium. The focus of this profile is on health and toxicological information and therefore begins with a Public Health Statement that summarizes in non-technical language, uranium's relevant properties. Topics include human health, chemical and physical information, production, import, use and disposal, potential for human exposure, analytical methods, and regulations and advisories.
  • Toxicological Profile for Radon (more info) The Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry Toxicological Profile succinctly characterizes the toxicological and adverse health effects information for radon. The focus of this profile is on health and toxicological information and therefore begins with a Public Health Statement that summarizes in non-technical language, radon's relevant properties. Topics include human health, chemical and physical information, production, import, use and disposal, potential for human exposure, analytical methods, and regulations and advisories.
  • The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People (more info) This American Journal of Public Health article describes the history of uranium mining and the Navajo people. The abstract may be viewed for free and the article and accompanying figures are available for a fee, to view either together or separately. Topics include issues on the Navajo Nation from uranium mining, such as lung cancer and other diseases, radon levels, federal regulations, congressional hearings on compensation, and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
  • The Navajo Uranium Mining Experience, 2003-1952 (more info) This bibliography, compiled by the Southwest Research and Information Center, contains resources related to Navajo uranium issues and communities affected by uranium mining impacts since the mid-1970s. Entries were selected for their relevancy to Navajo community concerns, Navajo Nation policies, and health and environmental effects of uranium development on Navajo lands. Topics for resources include articles, books, policy statements, reports, presentations, testimony, and published medical, scientific and sociological literature.
  • An Aerial Radiological Survey of Uranium Mines in the Navajo Nation This report documents the results of aerial radiological surveys of 41 areas in the Navajo Nation. Topics include a description of the study area, background information about radiation in the environment, and discussions of survey operations, data analysis, spatial considerations, and aerial survey results. Detailed figures and tables are provided to illustrate the data.

Suggested Future Reading on the Human Health Impacts of the Navajo

Resources containing information on the human health impacts of the Navajo Nation:

  • Uranium Mine Waste on the Navajo Reservation. 103rd Congress, 1994 This is a transcript of a hearing about the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines and mine waste on the Navajo reservation. (citation and description)
  • Radiation Exposure of Uranium Miners. 90th Congress 1st sess.,1967 This is the report on the Public Health Service Epidemiological Study of Lung Cancer among Uranium Miners. The report is based on a hearing of the 90th Congress regarding radiation exposure of uranium miners. (citation and description)
  • If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans. Eichsteadt, 1994 This book recounts the story of how uranium mining began on the Navajo lands in the American West. It discusses how mining was conducted and how its deadly legacy still lingers in the lives of the men, women, and children whose homelands have been destroyed. Useful tools in this book include a map of the uranium ore mining areas, interviews with miners and their relatives, and an appendix with accounts of federal involvement. (citation and description)
  • Health Concerns in Uranium Mining and Milling. [Archer, 1981] This journal article addresses health concerns in uranium mining and milling. (citation and description)
  • Memories Come To Us In the Rain and the Wind. [Brugge, 2000] Oral histories and photographs of Navajo uranium miners and their families. (citation and description)
  • Uranium Mining and Lung Cancer Among Navajo Men in New Mexico and Arizona, 1969 to 1993. [Gilliland et al., 2000] This journal article addresses uranium mining and lung cancer among Navajo men in New Mexico and Arizona from 1969 to 1993. (citation and description)
  • Lung Cancer Among Navajo Uranium Miners. [Gottleib and Husen, 1982] This journal article address lung cancer among Navajo uranium miners. (citation and description)
  • Psychological Effects of Technological Human-Caused Environmental Disasters: Examination of the Navajo and Uranium. [Markstrom and Charley, 2003] This article in the American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research: Journal of the National Center recounts the history of uranium mining on Navajo land along with the inter-related environmental and psychological impacts on the Navajo people from uranium mining. The article attempts to help the reader understand this situation in light of Navajo culture and beliefs. (citation and description)
  • Human Exposure to Uranium in Groundwater. [Orloff, 2004] This article in Environmental Research discusses the effects of human exposure to uranium in groundwater. The study is based on water samples with high concentrations of uranium collected from private wells in a residential community. The results of this investigation demonstrated that after long-term ingestion of uranium in drinking water, elevated concentrations of uranium in urine could be detected up to 10 months after exposure had stopped. (citation and description)
  • Mortality Among Navajo Uranium Miners. [Roscoe et al., 1995] This journal article addresses mortality among navajo uranium miners. (citation and description)
  • Uranium Mining and Lung Cancer in Navajo Men. [Samet, 1984] This journal article addresses uranium mining and lung cancer in Navajo men. (citation and description)
  • Diseases of Uranium Miners and Other Underground Miners Exposed to Radon. [Samet, 1991] This journal article addresses diseases of uranium miners and other underground miners exposed to radon. (citation and description)
  • Navajo Birth Outcomes in the Shiprock Uranium Mining Area. [Shields et al., 1992] This journal article addresses the correlation between birth defects and proximity to the Shiprock uranium mining area on the Navajo reservation. (citation and description)



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