The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres. Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.
Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die. Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.
The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills. Chairman Christopher Hanson called the visit historic, and the significance was visible with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Navajo officials in attendance. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission through a Creative Commons license. As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said. “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind.
With historic uranium mine sites already polluting communities, members of the Navajo Nation have been fighting for 27 years to stop a new mining initiative from starting in the Crownpoint and Church Rock areas. On Thursday, the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining took that fight to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that the United States and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of Hydro Resources Inc. mines violated the human rights of Navajo Nation residents. “For far too long, our Indigenous communities have borne the brunt of environmental racism and of environmental harms,” said Virginia Neochea, the executive director of New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which is representing ENDAUM. “For decades have Indigenous families and communities been targeted for the intentional siting of polluting industries. This intentional and inequitable siting has resulted in direct harm to the community as well as their health, their traditions, and it has violated their fundamental human rights to clean air, land and water, fundamental human rights that we’re all entitled to.”
ENDAUM petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March and the commission admitted the case, allowing ENDAUM to file additional observations on the merits of the case this week.
In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby. Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction. Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.
A short-form documentary from Navajo Nation highlighted the problem with lack of clean water for many residents. Vice News traveled to the Navajo Nation, where at least 40 percent of residents lack clean running water. As a whole, 99 percent of Americans have access to clean running water. Reporter Neha Shastry spoke to residents as well as George McGraw, the founder of DIGDEEP Water. The non-profit seeks access to clean water for those in underdeveloped parts of the world—the project on the Navajo Nation was the first in the United States for the non-profit.
The Animas River turned a sickly orange-brown as waste from an abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado flowed into the river. The water with high level of heavy metals has made its way down the river into New Mexico. The cause? A breach from a team working for the Environmental Protection Agency that was trying to treat some of the contaminants in the mine. Here are a few things you should know about the spill as well as some other background.