The federal government is cleaning up a long legacy of uranium mining within the Navajo Nation — some 27,000 square miles spread across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona that is home to more than 250,000 people.
Many Navajo people have died of kidney failure and cancer, conditions linked to uranium contamination. And new research from the CDC shows uranium in babies born now.
Mining companies blasted 4 million tons of uranium out of Navajo land between 1944 and 1986. The federal government purchased the ore to make atomic weapons. As the Cold War threat petered out the companies left, abandoning more than 500 mines.
Maria Welch is a field researcher with the Southwest Research Information Center, which is working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local groups to gauge the impacts of uranium on Navajo families today. She surveys Navajo families for the Navajo Birth Cohort Study, which has 599 participants so far.
On a recent day in Flagstaff, Ariz., she asks a mother about feeding practices for her baby. Forty percent of the tribe lacks running water. Welch learns that the mother mixes baby formula with tap water.
One of the study’s findings: 27 percent of the participants have high levels of uranium in their urine, compared to 5 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.
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