The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a grant to Diné College to study abandoned uranium mines. It’ll allow students on the Navajo Nation to develop cleanup strategies at 50 of the most dangerous sites. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
Through the $380,000 grant, students will assist federal officials with assessment in the Cove Watershed area of northeastern Arizona. They’ll study streams, unregulated wells, and livestock watering areas to determine levels of radiation contamination and heavy metals. High uranium levels have been linked to lung and bone cancer along with kidney and other diseases.
Perry Charley is the director of Diné College’s Environmental Institute and leads the mine program.
"Uranium has affected almost every segment of social life on the Navajo reservation. It affects our legislation, public health, the four sacred elements: air, land, water, and heat — they’re affected," Charley says.
According to Charley, the project will also integrate traditional Navajo ecological knowledge with western scientific methods. He says it’s an attempt to reestablish harmony with nature. The project is expected to be completed in 2018.
There are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. To date, fewer than a dozen have been cleaned up.