History

Treaty of 1868 – 1868

"Navajo Treaty 1868 signed between the U.S. Government and the Navajo Nation Tribe," National Archives.
“Navajo Treaty 1868 signed between the U.S. Government and the Navajo Nation Tribe,” National Archives.

This treaty was established between the Navajo Tribe and the U.S. government, which agreed that “the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to care for Navajo economic, education, and health services.”[1] Many Navajo people reference this treaty today, as the U.S. government has greatly failed to provide this to them, especially with regard to the health of those affected by uranium mining-related diseases.[2]

Click here to see the full treaty on National Archives.

Cold War – 1947

After the start of the Cold War, uranium extraction to be used for nuclear weaponry “boomed” to fuel the nuclear arms race in the United States.[3]

Uranium Mining Begins in the Navajo Nation -1948

President Truman signed a law that granted the United States the right to purchase and set the price for all uranium on the market and this uranium would be used in the U.S. bomb-production industry.[4] Additionally, the Raw Materials Division that was established by the Atomic Energy Commission created by Truman, was responsible for finding “as much uranium as possible, as fast as possible, and as economically as possible.”[5] During the same year, the Kerr McGee Corporation discovered uranium in the Navajo Nation and this initiated the uranium mining operations on the Navajo Nation land.[6]

ehp.122-A44.g003
Loomis, Dean. Time Life Pictures, Getty Images. Image Link.

U.S. Public Health Service Conducts Study that Connected Radiation from Uranium Mining to Health – 1950

This study was done as a result of growing concern from prior European research of radon exposure and its association with lung cancer.[7] The 1950 study measured radon in mines and health outcomes.[8] However, this study did not inform minors and research regarded primarily only white minors.[9] It was not until 1984, that a study regarding mining and health effects that included the Navajo population was done.[10]

First Publication of a Statistical Correlation Between Cancer and Uranium Mining – 1962

Federal Metal and Non-Metallic Mine Safety Act -1966

This act is significant because it was the first act established to regulate the safety in non-coal mines.[11] Prior to this act, uranium was not included in the mine safety regulation.[12] Still, this act in conjunction to the Coal Act of 1969 improved mining safety conditions primarily for coal miners only.[13]

End of Uranium Mining in the Navajo Nation – 1967

Uranium mining in the Navajo Nation began in 1948, peaked in 1955 and 1956, and ended in 1867, leaving over 1,000 abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation.[14] Private mining companies remained mining in the Navajo Nation until 1988.[15]

Church Rock Uranium Mill Spill – 1979

On July 16, 1979, a dam breached at the United Nuclear Corporation Mill, dumping “94 million gallons of mill process effluent and 1,100 tons of tailings (radioactive sludge) into the Puerco River.[16] The Church Rock Uranium Mill Spill became the largest nuclear spill in the United States.[17]

Church Rock Uranium Mill Spill Area Declared a Superfund Site by the EPA – 1983

Radon Exposure Compensation Act Passed – 1990

This act “acknowledged responsibility for the historical mistreatment of uranium miners by the U.S. government, and made provision for financial compensation to miners with diseases that could be related to their mining experience.[18] However, in 2000 Congress amended the original act in order to remedy some of its “widely perceived as areas of unfairness in the original legislation.”[19]

EPA Began One Year Clean-Up of a Single Mine in the Navajo Nation – 2010

This clean-up of a single mind cost the EPA 8 million dollars.[20] The remaining uranium clean-up process is estimated to potentially take over 100 years.[21]

EPA Approves Plan to Clean Up Church Rock Mine Near Gallup, NM – 2011

Screenshot of EPA Website. December 8, 2016.
Screenshot of EPA Website. December 8, 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website dedicated to remediation of the effects of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation.

Click here to see.

An Estimated 521 Mines in the Navajo Nation are Still in Need of Remediation and Runoff Continues to Contaminate Water Systems – Present

This map below represents the 521 abandoned mines in the Navajo Nation that are known to the EPA.[22] Although, research has estimated that over 100 other abandoned mines are known but not acknowledged on this map.[23]

"Map of Navajo Nation AUM Regions." Image from: Arnold, Carrie, “Once Upon a Mine: The Legacy of Uranium on the Navajo Nation,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol, 122, No, 2 (February 2014).
“Map of Navajo Nation AUM Regions.” Image from: Arnold, Carrie, “Once Upon a Mine: The Legacy of Uranium on the Navajo Nation,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol, 122, No, 2 (February 2014). Image Link.

 


 

[1] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1412.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1410.

[4] Pasternak, Judy, Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land the Betrayal of the Navajos, (New York: Free Press, 2010), 54.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1410.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 1413.

[9] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[11] Panikkar, Bindu, “The Ethical Issues in Uranium Mining Research in the Navajo Nation,” Accountability in research, Vol. 14, No. 2 (April 2007): 122.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1411.

[15] Panikkar, Bindu, “The Ethical Issues in Uranium Mining Research in the Navajo Nation,” Accountability in research, Vol. 14, No. 2 (April 2007): 123.

[16] Arnold, Carrie, “Once Upon a Mine: The Legacy of Uranium on the Navajo Nation,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol, 122, No, 2 (February 2014): 46.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1410.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Loomis, Brandon, “Uranium-mine Cleanup on Navajo Reservation Could Take 100 Years.” Azcentral. 2014.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002).

[23] Ibid.