The contaminated earth of uranium mining

Judy Pasternak has just released a new book – Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed

She first wrote about this topic in 2006 in a series of articles in the L.A. Times. Her articles inspired congressional hearings and Superfund cleanups. Since then, she has crisscrossed the Navajo Reservation collecting stories from miners, uranium industry representatives, and dug through federal archives.

The United States was of course very interested in uranium during the Manhattan Project to build atom bombs, and Pasternak alleges that the U.S. government’s hunger for uranium was such that mining companies felt no need to meet safety standards. As a result, she claims miners were exposed to massive levels of radiation “about forty-four times higher than the levels at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Since then, the exposure to mine residues and persistent contamination of drinking water as well as of homes – many built using radioactive mine waste – continue to devastate Navajo families with high rates of cancer and kidney disease.

The federal court system and a federal agency just approved further uranium mining that will impact Navajo people, and in disregard of a Navajo Nation ban on uranium mines in Navajo country.

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