Native Village 
Youth and Education News

March 1, 2013

Uranium study would be first for Navajo Children
Condensed by Native Village

  View Interactive Slideshow from the LA Times
Blighted Houses, Poisoned Water, Superfund, New Uranium Rush

New Mexico: A study of how uranium affects Navajo Nation mothers and children that was slated to begin last year is still on hold.  The U.S. and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection agencies are waiting for the go-ahead. The problem is federal funding.

Both agencies suspect a connection between the high rates of deformities and high levels of uranium in certain communities.

"Every now and then, there's a birth recorded with all kinds of problems," said Stephen Etsitty from the NNEP. "But it's really difficult to directly attribute any one thing without research. People attribute them (deformities) to uranium exposure, but none of it's been formally documented. They've never been addressed,"

Concern over uranium exposure began in the 1980s when people learned uranium mining was poisoning the land and water sources. While radioactive ore occurs naturally, mining has tainted the area and endangered the people working and living nearby. 

Agencies still are working to clean up the mess. The U.S. EPA recently released a report on it's five-year, $100 million cleanup project. It concluded that while progress is better than expected, there is still much to do.

But without further funding, the project cannot continue. This includes a study --the first of its kind -- on women and children, specifically pregnant women with unborn children. It would enlist about 1,500 pregnant mothers living on the Navajo reservation, assess their exposure to uranium, and the follow their pregnancy.

"It's what people have been asking for," Etsitty said. "They want to know what's happening to their future ... but it's also very sensitive."

The study would follow children for a year after their birth, record data about their uranium exposure, and assess its effects on their health and behavior.

According to the Center for Disease Control, uranium exposure appears to induce early deaths and birth defects in pregnant animal subjects. It is not clear, however, if uranium causes birth defects in humans. Other studies suggest a relationship between uranium exposure and human birth defects, but they are not sufficient to allow valid conclusions, the CDC said.

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