We are the Miner’s Canary’: Indigenous Organizations Call for Clean Up of ‘Homegrown’ Radioactive Pollution Crisis.
On Thursday, January 28 at 12:30 PM, representatives of Indigenous organizations from the Southwest, Northern Great Plains, and supporters called for “no nukes” in a protest addressing radioactive pollution caused by 15,000 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) posing a toxic threat in the US. The demonstration was held at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters to call for immediate clean up of these hazardous sites, protection of Indigenous sacred areas from uranium mining, and for intervention in communities where drinking water is poisoned with radioactive contamination. The groups charged that the EPA has been negligent in addressing these toxic threats that severely threaten public health, lands, and waterways.
“Native American nations of North America are the miners’ canaries for the United States trying to awaken the people of the world to the dangers of radioactive pollution”, said Charmaine White Face from the South Dakota based organization Defenders of the Black Hills.
South Dakota has 272 AUMs which are contaminating waterways such as the Cheyenne River and desecrating sacred and ceremonial sites. An estimated 169 AUMs are located within 50 miles of Mt. Rushmore where millions of tourists risk exposure to radioactive pollution each year.
Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted as approximately 75% of AUMs are located on federal and Tribal lands. A majority of AUMs are located in 15 western states with the potential to impact more than 50 million people.
“This is an invisible national crisis. Millions of people in the United States are being exposed as Nuclear Radiation Victims on a daily basis.” said Mrs. White Face, “Exposure to radioactive pollution has been linked to cancer, genetic defects, Navajo Neuropathy, and increases in mortality. We are protesting the EPA today because we believe that as more Americans become aware of this homegrown radioactive pollution, then something can be done to protect all peoples and the environment. In the meetings we had in DC, not only were AUMs discussed, but we also talked about radioactive pollution from coal dust, coal smoke, and in water.Currently, no comprehensive law, regardless of mining era, requires clean-up of all these dangerous abandoned uranium mines allowing corporations and the federal government to walk away without taking responsibility for the continuing harms they have caused.
These show a need for amendments to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.” said Mrs. White Face.
Tommy Rock, a member of Diné No Nukes and graduate student from the state of Arizona stated that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan was extremely similar to a crisis near the Navajo Nation in Sanders, AZ. “The regulatory agencies are responding by sending the Army National Guard to provide bottle water for the community of Flint. However, the small community of Sanders which is also predominantly an Indigenous community that is off the reservation are not receiving the same response from the state regulatory agency or the state legislatures and the media,” stated Rock who worked on a recent study that uncovered levels of uranium in the drinking water system of residents and an elementary school in Sanders that violated the drinking water standard for uranium. Rock continues, “The same can be said about two Lakota reservations. They are Pine Ridge and Rock Creek, Standing Rock Reservation that have not received any assistance from regulatory agencies. This exemplifies the inconsistency among the US EPA regions about responding to Indigenous communities compared to non-Indigenous populations which are facing the same issue regarding access to safe drinking water.”
Mr. Rock called for the community of Sanders to be included in the second Navajo Nation 5-Year Clean-Up Plan and an amendment to the Clean Water Act. “Another issue around water is the mining industry is contaminating the rivers. They are disregarding the Clean Water Act because the act does not address radionuclides. This needs to be amended so the policy can enforce that companies be accountable for their degradation to the watershed areas. This can also be beneficial to US EPA because they do not have the funds to clean every contaminated river by the mining industry and other commercial industry,” stated Mr. Rock.