Uranium Poisoning Still Plagues the Navajo Nation

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


They built their homes out of uranium mill waste because “it made good concrete.” They drank the water of lakes that appeared “as if by magic” on the arid reservation in the 1950s and 1960s. What they didn’t know was that these lakes were actually pools covering abandoned uranium mines.

Fifty years ago, reports Judy Pasternak in the Los Angeles Times, cancer rates on the Navajo reservation in the desert southwest were so low that a medical journal published an article titled “Cancer immunity in the Navajo.” Then, from 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains, with radioactive waste piles, open tunnels and pits left behind. Few companies bothered to fence the properties or post warning signs. Federal inspectors seldom intervened.

Not until 2000 were some families warned that they were living in homes as radioactive as uranium mines. The U.S. government still hasn’t cleaned it up. Read more about the cruel legacy uranium has left for this tribe in Pasternak’s heartbreaking series, running this week.

—April Rabkin

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate