Western NM Communities Seek Data on Health Impacts from Nearby Uranium Legacy Waste Sites
Despite the Navajo Nation’s efforts to restrict mining, milling and the transport of uranium through the region, McKinley County has taken actions in the past to suggest an interest in uranium mining. The uranium mining industry has left a legacy of abandoned uranium mines and tremendous amounts of radioactive waste with no plan for disposal.
As a result McKinley County Place Matters conducted a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to explore the potential health impacts of uranium mining and milling. The HIA specifically focused its analysis on the effects related to environmental exposures and contamination, displacement and relocation, and cultural relevance of the land and community efficacy.
CVNM Education Fund’s Western New Mexico Organizer Talia Boyd worked alongside a broad coalition of community and health organizations on the HIA in a variety of ways. Talia helped educate the community on the need for health studies by gathering petition signatures, letters of support and hosting community forums. Talia helped recruit community members and connected them with their local and state decision-makers about the health impacts they feel and see every day.
There are approximately 120 abandoned uranium mines in McKinley County alone, according to the EPA. Although the risks were known as early as 1930, the federal government downplayed the health impacts of uranium exposure throughout the beginning of the uranium mining boom in the 1940’s. As a result, Navajo mine workers, their families, and community members would unknowingly drink water from contaminated sources. Homes and livestock corrals were built out of irradiated materials when community members stripped abandoned mine structures.
Uranium mining continues to take a toll on public health to this day. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney diseases are among the top ten leading causes of death for New Mexicans. McKinley County residents have higher rates of stomach, kidney, renal and pelvic cancer than the overall populations of both New Mexico and the U.S.
New Mexico communities need more health studies in the area. There must be a full analysis of the potential health effects of the existing facilities, and extensive clean-up of existing contaminated areas and homes within McKinley County before any more mining permits are issued in the area. For the communities that live on the fence line of this contamination, this will:
- Improve or decrease environmental contamination and pollution for the region,
- Have no effect on the amount of current displacement and relocation for cleanup efforts for AUM, but decrease the potential for a need for future displacement and relocation should uranium mining be allowed to continue, and
- Improve cultural relevance to the land through improved community efficacy.
The HIA is a critical tool that Talia will continue to utilize in her organizing work around water quality and uranium
issues in Western New Mexico.
Read the full HIA at http://mckinleycommunityplacematters.com/health-impact-assessment/
Support Talia & her work pushing for health studies in Western New Mexico by signing our petition at www.CVNMEF.org.