The University of New Mexico, along with the federal and Navajo government have launched a health study 30 years after uranium mines were shut down on the Navajo Nation. Researchers plan to determine whether ongoing exposure to contaminated sites may be affecting pregnant women and children.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean up some abandoned uranium mines, hundreds of contaminated sites remain. Potential health impacts include lung cancer, bone cancer and kidney disease. Despite the long-term exposure to tens of thousands of people living next to mine waste, no comprehensive health studies have been conducted to assess the impact. And now a high rate of birth defects and miscarriages have many tribal members worried.
Chris Shuey, one of the investigators for the study, works for Southwest Research and Information Center.
"We hear from women a lot," Shuey said. "You hear the same question over and over again. ‘Well, I’ve had two miscarriages. Does it have anything to do with the fact that I live next door to this mine dump?’ And we can’t answer. It has not been studied."
Congress awarded money for the health study in 2009 following hearings on uranium’s legacy on the Navajo Nation.