In 2010, Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies scholar, who served as senior policy adviser to the U.S. Energy Department from 1993 to 1999, wrote an article entitled "Poisoning the Yakama."
He stated in part: "In 2002, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control reported that tribal people eating fish from the stretch of the Columbia River flowing through the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford nuclear weapon production site in eastern Washington had a 1 in 50 risk of dying from radiation-induced cancer between the 1940's and late 1960's – the highest of any group living near this plant."
During the time the area was used to produce plutonium, the stretch of the Columbia known as the Hanford Reach was considered the most radioactive stream in the world.
"The same year that CDC released its report, the Environmental Protection Agency also came out with a study that found that indigenous people eating fish at the present time from the same stretch of the Columbia have a 1 in 50 risk of dying from cancer due to pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl's (PCBs) and heavy metals. Indian children also have a high risk of neurological damage."
"The most immediate threat is from hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen, made famous by the movie, Erin Brokovich. Large amounts were used in Hanford's reactors, and are now creeping into the Chinook salmon spawning beds. Tribal people are extremely dependent on the salmon for subsistence and their economic well being. The Chinook also make up a large portion of the total Pacific salmon harvest."
"In 2000, a study by the U.S, Geological Survey found that that juvenile salmon in the Hanford Reach are being seriously harmed by the chromium entering the river. It was heavily criticized by the DOE and effectively squelched. Further research was thwarted after a refrigerator that held samples of salmon tissue at DOE's Pacific National Laboratory was mysteriously unplugged."
The Yakama Tribe has repeatedly tried to get the U.S. government to acknowledge this problem. But at a meeting with EPA Region 10 officials in 2003, tribal citizens were told EPA had no money to reduce their risks and that they should be more concerned about pesticide residues on Mexican strawberries.
The author states that "the Federal government has a moral and legal trust responsibility to ensure that tribal treaty resources are protected and that the health of tribal people is not being harmed. . . . Violation of this trust responsibility has a long, well-documented and tragic history. So far, no attempt by the U.S. government has been made to correct this injustice on the Hanford Reach."