They Are Still Dying From Radiation Poisoning BUT Navajo's Request For Uranium Cleanup Largely Ignored!
GALLUP – The Navajo Code Talkers carried out their mission during World War II to keep the United States safe and free, little realizing that in a few years, their brothers, sisters, even their own children would be affected by the same material used to fuel the bomb that helped end the war.
At the same time, Navajo Nation Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur said, “We all know the contributions that the Navajo families contributed to the initiative that took place during the Cold War.”
Yet today, he reminded federal officials during Wednesday's uranium-contamination summit in Gallup, “for whatever reason, we sit here talking about an issue that's been very devastating for the Navajo people. We also know that the people of Laguna, the people of Acoma, as well as the Hopi have similar issues.”
On Oct. 23, 2007, Arthur testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Representatives from four federal agencies sat alongside him, Arthur said.
“As we began to talk and represent our issues, questions arose from the committee members. I realized that our trustees, no matter which department or where they may be, had no knowledge of what we were talking about.”
Representatives of those same federal agencies were at Wednesday's summit, and Arthur said he hoped that at the end of the day, discussion of the issues the Navajo Nation laid out in October would result in a more constructive initiative, “because today, we still are faced with the unknown.”
In October the Nation set out six goals it wanted to see addressed in the federal agencies' five-year Navajo Nation cleanup plan discussed Wednesday. One was adoption of a federal moratorium on uranium mining or processing within Navajo Indian Country until the federal agencies address the impacts in their entirety.
“Within that five-year plan as it is today, where is that moratorium?” Arthur asked.
The Nation requested direct federal funding for 20 employees to work on the Navajo Nation for the next 10 years to assist Navajo with cleanup issues. In addition, Arthur said, “We requested $500 million for cleanup of every site that is within Navajo. Where is that?”
The Nation asked that all contaminated materials in the uranium mill tailings sites be excavated and disposed of outside Navajo Indian Country and also requested immediate federal funding for comprehensive health assessments. “Again I ask, where in the five-year plan is that?” Arthur said.
The Nation requested that where data is sufficient to support immediate remedial action, that the federal agencies begin cleanup. “We know that you have existing data. Why can you not begin addressing these needs and these areas of concern that we have put on the table before the oversight committee?” Arthur asked.
Meanwhile, Navajos living in the shadow of abandoned uranium mines or exposed to radioactive contamination through unregulated water sources because they have no other option, go about their daily lives the best way they know how.
David Neztsosie Jr., whose family lives in Cameron, told federal representatives, “We're at a place where water is scarce. ... Generally out there, when you find water, you don't distinguish. You give it to your animals, you use it in your household.
“Living out there where the water was scarce, the open pit mine was the best thing we had, in a sense. Even in midsummer when it was very hot, those are the only things that contained water and that was the drinking area for the livestock, as well as for the folks around there.”
He said his family and possibly others in the area used gravel and water from a wash downstream from the open pit mines to mix the cement they used in building their homes.
Holding back tears, Neztsosie said he lost his two sisters to Navajo neuropathy, a rare genetic disease believed to be caused by maternal exposure to uranium from waters contaminated by old mines.
Neztsosie's first sister passed away in 2000. “The other one was more recent. We had to bury her on July 27. Even to this day, IHS doesn't seem to find the research to nail it, that it's from uranium,” he said.
It also was difficult for the family to understand the symptoms of Navajo neuropathy, which include difficulty walking, muscle weakness, loss of sensation in extremities, corneal ulcerations, and enlarged liver.
“The only conclusion that my late wife could be able to associate it with was when the United States bombed Hiroshima. You could see those pictures, which were similar to the way my sisters were at their late stage, before they were ready to leave,” he said.
Carl Holiday, a health physicist who works with Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands, offered condolences to Neztsosie in Navajo and then turned to the audience.
“When I go to meetings, people share their stories about how the legacy of uranium has impacted their lives. They shed their tears. From my own experience, you just have to shed your tears with them.
“I lost my mom, and my dad died the same way – exposure. You hear stories all over. It tears your heart out. Maybe through this workshop we can see something better for our people come out of it. The compensation is not worth it. I know I would rather have my dad than the money that was sent to my mom for her use.”
In some Navajo households, family members unknowingly sleep right up against a source of radiation, according to Holiday. “The only reason I bring that up is a family in Oljato.”
When a survey of their home was taken, a highly radioactive point source was found, he said. “Their son, he laid right next to that point source. About five years ago, that son died from brain cancer.”
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