University to study uranium exposure of Navajo mothers and infants

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has announced its cooperative agreement with the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center for a $1 million a year, three-year study on pregnancy outcomes and child development in relation to uranium exposure among Navajo mothers and infants living on the Navajo Nation reservation.

Dr. Johnnye Lewis, director of the Community Environmental Health Program at the UNM Health Sciences Center, and her team will work with the ATSDR, Indian Health Service, Navajo communities, and other federal and Navajo agencies to enroll 1,650 pregnant women to be assessed during pregnancy and child birth. Infants will be assessed at birth, and for growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes up to 12 months of age. The study will also focus on building the infrastructure for longer-term follow-up of this cohort.

Uranium exposure on the Navajo Nation are a concern because of abandoned uranium mines and mills. There are 1,100 abandoned mines, mills and associated waste piles scattered throughout the area, which includes northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.

Past research has identified uranium exposure as a possible contributor to several health conditions among the Navajo population, such as kidney disease. For these studies, only Navajo adults have been assessed. This will be the first study to observe pregnant women and their newborns.

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