Nuclear Materials 'Poison' Navajo Land

"We are still undergoing what appears to be a never-ending federal experiment to see how much devastation can be endured by a people and a society from exposure to radiation in the air, in the water, in the mines, and on the surface of the land. We are unwilling to be the subjects of that ongoing experiment any longer."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were outraged. Committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., called the government's behavior "absolutely unacceptable" and a "modern American tragedy".

Federal Government Defends Cleanup Efforts

Officials from various federal agencies also testified, highlighting their respective efforts to solve the problem.

Wayne Nastri of the Environmental Protection Agency cited an investigation of uranium mining areas on Navajo lands from 1994 to 2007 that built an inventory of the 520 abandoned sites, an inventory now being used by the Navajo Nation government to prioritize the mine sites.

Nastri said the EPA is taking action at sites that "present an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health or the environment" and providing a total of $3.9 million annually through 11 grant programs.

Nastri also added that over the last 16 years the EPA has provided $7.8 million for the Navajo Nation Superfund program, legislation that makes polluters pay for the remediation of toxic sites.

David Geiser of the Department of Energy noted that DOE has remediated four inactive uranium milling sites on Navajo land, including the Tuba City, Arizona mill at which Ray Manygoats' father worked.

But many lawmakers were far from satisfied with the responses from the various officials.

Accusing the agency officials of having "a conspiracy of silence and do-nothingness", Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Mary., demanded that they do better in the future.

"These are human beings they share this land with us," Cummings said, "And it's just not right. And if there's not more empathy for our fellow human beings, then maybe somebody's got to replace you guys."

The outrage of the lawmakers was matched by the sadness of the Navajo representatives.

Nuclear Waste's Effects Linger

Edith Hood still sees the remains of the uranium mining every morning.

"As I pray in the early morning dawn, there is a man-made mesa of radioactive and hazardous waste about a quarter of a mile northeast of my residence. In the other direction, to the south about 1,000 feet away, is another mound of uranium mining waste," Hood said.

Hood and her family have also experienced serious health problems.

"I was diagnosed with lymphoma in the summer of 2006. My father has a pulmonary fibrosis. My mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. My grandmother and grandfather died of lung cancer. Many of my family members and neighbors are sick," she says.

Hood describes a community ravaged by uranium.

"Mining has already contaminated the water, the plants and the air. People are sick and dying all around us," she says.

Hood, Manygoats and other Navajo such as Phil Harrison, whose father died of lung cancer and whose brothers and sisters all have thyroid problems and disorders, want the government to take action.

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