Environmental Health Investigations on the Navajo Nation
Jani Ingram, 2022 Michel T. Halbouty Distinguished Lecture
During the mid-1900s, the United States was locked in a nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union in an era known as the Cold War. In order to meet demands, uranium mines were dug across the Navajo reservation in the Southwest United States. Although the Cold War officially ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, these abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo reservation have left a legacy of contamination that infiltrates all aspects of life on the reservation. Uranium is a known toxicant due to its properties as a heavy metal, and uranium mining has been suggested to exacerbate exposure to other elemental toxicants, such as arsenic. Current understanding of the extent of contamination on the Navajo lands is ill-defined. Our research team seeks to elucidate exposure to these toxicants through quantifying uranium and other toxic elemental contaminants in environmental samples including water, soil, plants and sheep, so as to understand the nature of exposure. Collected data is used to usher change to environmental public policies on the reservation and to increase saliency of the issue through community meetings.