For some Navajos, the uranium contamination is all of a piece with their fraught relationship with the federal government.
“They’re making excuses, and they’ve always made excuses,” Ms. Knorr said. “The government should have had a law in place that told these mining companies: you clean up your mess when you leave.”
via NY Times.
A Navajo friend was once telling me about Monument Valley, about those famous structures that you see in northern Arizona made famous by old western films.
Little did I know that those famous landmarks are radioactive, and some contain old uranium mines at the top of them. Some 8.7 million pounds of uranium oxide were taken from these sacred lands by Monument Valley.
Arizona is the land of everything.
We have deserts and we have snow. We have tall mountains and deep canyons. We have the newest urban areas and old Native American domains, from dug up villages that pre-date the birth of Jesus to the largest area of reservations in the country.
We have a large elder and retired population from out of state, immigrants if you will, and we have more than 50% of the babies born today being minority, and its no wonder the older people with the money don’t want to share it by paying for public education.
Arizona also has the largest nuclear power plant in the nation, one that you can see as you head west of Phoenix on I-10 towards LA. It is also the only one not near a source of water, but instead uses 20,000,000,000 gallons of sewage water a year for cooling.
The Navajo Nation, sacred land near the Grand Canyon and Four Corners area, is also home to lots of uranium and coal. This is were Arizona gets a lot of its energy from, and Tucson is not exempt, exploiting this finite resource in the land that extends from Northeastern Arizona and into New Mexico, home of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation.
We have already mentioned how uranium mines can be found in Monument Valley. A friend once told me about driving through the reservation and a truck carrying uranium drove by carrying a load that was uncovered, and on these old bumpy roads sometimes rocks would fly out.
You can find uranium on the side of the road on the Navajo rez. Sometimes these rocks end up in small depressions that form puddles when it rains, and sometimes the sheep that are in the area drink this water. You can tell if they have because its nose turns bright pink before it falls off.
This radioactivity in Arizona is the focus of a NY Times Sunday article:
CAMERON, Ariz. — In the summer of 2010, a Navajo cattle rancher named Larry Gordy stumbled upon an abandoned uranium mine in the middle of his grazing land and figured he had better call in the feds. Engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived a few months later, Geiger counters in hand, and found radioactivity levels that buried the needles on their equipment.
The abandoned mine here, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon, joins the list of hundreds of such sites identified across the 27,000 square miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer and other diseases.
The radioactivity at the former mine is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors and other serious health damage, according to Lee Greer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. Two days of exposure at the Cameron site would expose a person to more external radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers safe for an entire year.
Sometimes this radioactive uranium not only contaminates the water, but the soil as well. Then when a traditional Navajo home is made out of the earth, the kids and family living inside are exposed to radioactive uranium the entire time without even knowing it.
But hey, America is addicted to that rock. We need our energy. We need that power.
This is the pattern with mines. They set up, contaminate, then leave town. It costs too much to be safe. It would cost too many jobs if they have to be clean. So they are dirty, and once they leave, the federal government is left to clean up to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. This is another example of privatizing the profit, socializing the costs that pervades throughout American society.
America’s exploitation of Native American continues to this day. We feel bad about the Trail of Tears but continue to make them endure the new Trail of Toxic Tears today, just to power our iPads and air-conditioners while ignoring the vast solar energy available in the Sonoran Desert.