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environment, environmental


From the early 1950s to the 1980s, New Mexico played a pivotal role in the uranium mining industry, extracting nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore from the Navajo Nation for the United States government. Presently, the Navajo Nation grapples with the legacy of over 500 abandoned uranium mines scattered across its landscape. These mines have not only left a lasting environmental impact but have also contaminated nearby homes and groundwater, leading to severe health repercussions for indigenous communities. Alarming data from the CDC reveals that infants born to Navajos residing in the affected areas exhibit trace amounts of uranium poisoning, resulting in health complications such as kidney failure, mental health disorders, thyroid disease, cancer, and other grave conditions. Our environmental health initiative seeks to address and rectify the consequences of such environmental injustices, advocating for the well-being of affected communities and promoting sustainable solutions.


What WeDo

  • Conducting Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to thoroughly evaluate the physical, emotional, and economic repercussions of uranium mining waste spills on affected communities.

  • Providing accessible webinars and educational resources that shed light on the diverse health effects—physical, emotional, and mental—arising from exposure to uranium and other radioactive elements.

  •  Empowering individuals with crucial knowledge to safeguard their well-being and advocating for support and sustainable solutions in response to environmental health challenges caused by uranium and radioactive exposure.​

International Uranium Film Festival 2024

Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D.University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center College of Pharmacy

The director has overseen several center-level grants focusing on health issues related to mine-waste exposures in Indigenous communities across the Colorado Plateau and Northern plains/mountains regions. With over 30 years of experience, they have built strong partnerships with these communities to conduct research and address health concerns effectively.

Information provided by W.K. Kellogg Foundation Grant.

McKinley CHE – Uranium HIA outcomes. Hearings on uranium impact. Last March 6, 2020, in Crownpoint NM, was the last community meeting. Was supposed to do community forums and plan the people’s tribunal. Raised $6,000 for Red Water Pond. Another outgrowth of the HIA is the NM First zoom webinar with a panel (Krystal, social justice fellow) discussing the impacts of uranium
mining. As a result of the panel, this sparked the interest to have a statewide network to sift out policy issues that can be addressed. 

Barriers are lack of adequate or abundance of financial and resources needed to actuate “change.” There is a lack of understanding from the philanthropic sector regarding real-life community living conditions. We also have a rich culture and want to switch the poverty lens narrative towards bold, fierce, and indigenous-led in our region. Long-term investments in communities are needed for at least 20 to 30 years to see some change.

Geographically, we reside within the region of the 1979 “Church Rock Tailings Spill,” the second-largest uranium-related accident in the United States. (Breach of a dam released more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining wastes/tailings along with 100 million gallons of radioactive water into the Pipeline Arroyo and then traveled downstream along the Rio Puerco. The effects of which are still felt by our communities).

  • Provided environmental literacy training to  50 community members in Gallup and McKinley County on the Water Equity Climate Resilience; Water Policy framework.

  • Policy Link added uranium cleanup to their agenda.

  • Participation rates increased by 20% by nurturing relationship building through 4 family-centered events.

  • 4 Focus groups held on how to recruit more volunteers from communities we work within Gallup/McKinley

  • 8 Outreach activities held with Conservation Voters of NM, Strong Families, Somos Gallup, McKinley Health Council for base building.

  • Community members who participated in public and uranium forums. Strengthened long-term relationships with other local, state, and national networks for clean-up of the uranium mines. 

  • Increased knowledge and understanding of environmental and Dine Fundamental laws. (How do you know? )

  • 15 families have increased their confidence and attitudes towards advocacy processes. Through the monthly zoom meetings, we have updates from USEPA, Navajo EPA, and Southwest Research and Information Center that share information on metal studies and project updates from the Native American Superfund Center.

  • Monthly Meetings and emails from NM Environmental Law Center.

In July 1979 at the United Nuclear Corporations’ uranium processing mill in Northwest New Mexico, a dam broke releasing more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining wastes-tailings along with 100 million gallons of radioactive water into the Pipeline Arroyo and went downstream along the Rio Puerco. The “Church Rock Tailings Spill” is the second largest accident in the United States that released radioactive materials. We are conducting a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to analyze how uranium mining in McKinley County affected the physical, emotional, economic and spiritual health of communities. Our HIA will look at the following health determinants: Environmental exposures/contamination; Displacement and relocation; Cultural relevance of the land to holistic health; and Community Efficacy.

NMSJEI does not own the rights to this video. Courtesy of Vox on YouTube.

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