|Uranium Tailings||en español|
What are uranium tailings?
Navajo lands in the Four Corners area (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado) of the Southwest are rich in uranium. From 1944 to 1986, uranium was extracted from these Navajo lands. Many Navajo people worked in the mines and lived nearby with their families. Some miners were exposed to high levels of radioactivity in uranium mines and mills.
When uranium mining ceased, mining companies abandoned mines without sealing tunnel openings, filling pits, or removing uranium tailings. At least 520 of these abandoned sites remain throughout the Navajo Nation today. They continue to expose families living nearby to radioactive waste.
Uranium mills on Navajo lands included the 230-acre Shiprock Mill in New Mexico. Private companies leased the site from the Navajo Nation from 1954 to 1968. In 1983, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to a cleanup plan for the site. The site met federal cleanup standards in 1991.
The largest accidental release of radioactive material in U.S. history occurred in 1979 at the Church Rock site on Navajo lands in New Mexico. A dam holding uranium tailings burst and sent tons of radioactive waste and contaminated liquid into the Rio Puerco River.
The Navajo still cannot use this water. The Northeast Church Rock Mine is the Environmental Protection Agency’s highest priority for cleaning up abandoned uranium mines.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Environmental Justice for the Navajo: Uranium Mining in the Southwest (University of Michigan)
Fact Sheet: Shiprock, New Mexico, Disposal Site (Dept. of Energy) (PDF — 2 MB)
Human Health Impacts on the Navajo Nation from Uranium Mining (Carleton College)
Map of Superfund Hazardous Waste Sites with Uranium in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Mine Tailings (University of Arizona)
Navajo Nation: Cleaning Up Abandoned Uranium Mines (Environmental Protection Agency)
Radiation Protection (Environmental Protection Agency)
Shiprock, New Mexico, Disposal Site (Dept. of Energy)
The Navajo Nation and Uranium Mining (Carleton College)
Understanding Exposure and Health Effects: Uranium and Human Health (New Mexico Environmental Department and Department of Health) (PDF — 194.05 KB)
Uranium Mill Tailings (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
Uranium, Radioactive. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Uranium. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Last Updated: April 20, 2017