Albuquerque, New Mexico — About a quarter of Navajo women and some infants who were part of a federally funded study on uranium exposure had high levels of the radioactive metal in their systems, decades after mining for ingredients for Cold War weaponry ended on their reservation, a U.S. health official Monday. The early findings from the University of New Mexico study were shared during a congressional field hearing in Albuquerque.
Dr. Loretta Christensen – the chief medical officer on the Navajo Nation for Indian Health Service, a partner in the research – said 781 women were screened during an initial phase of the study that ended last year.
Among them, 26% had concentrations of uranium that exceeded levels found in the highest 5% of the U.S. population, and newborns with equally high concentrations continued to be exposed to uranium during their first year, she said.
The research is continuing as authorities work to clear uranium mining sites across the Navajo Nation. “It forces us to own up to the known detriments associated with a nuclear-forward society,” said U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, who is an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, a tribe whose jurisdiction lies west of Albuquerque.
The hearing held in Albuquerque by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, Haaland and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, all Democrats from New Mexico, sought to underscore the atomic age’s impact on Native American communities.