Development of Risk Maps to Minimize Uranium Exposures in the Navajo Churchrock Mining District
Jamie L deLemos
Ed. note: This paper was originally published in Environmental Health.
Background: Decades of improper disposal of uranium-mining wastes
on the Navajo Nation has resulted in adverse human and ecological
health impacts as well as socio-cultural problems. As the Navajo people
become increasingly aware of the contamination problems, there is a
need to develop a risk-communication strategy to properly inform tribal
members of the extent and severity of the health risks. To be most
effective, this strategy needs to blend accepted riskcommunication
techniques with Navajo perspectives such that the strategy can be used
at the community level to inform culturally- and
toxicologically-relevant decisions about land and water
use as well as mine-waste remediation.
Objective: The objective of this study was to develop GIS-based
thematic maps as communication tools to clearly identify high risk
exposure areas and offer alternatives to minimize public and ecological
Methods: Thematic maps were produced that incorporated data
derived from environmental sampling and public health surveys. The maps
show the location and quality of unregulated water resources and
identify regulated water sources that could be used as alternatives. In
addition, the maps show the location of contaminated soil and sediment
areas in which disturbance of surface deposits should be avoided.
Preliminary feedback was collected from an informal Navajo working
group to assess the clarity and efficacy of this proposed communication
Results: The working group found the maps to be both clear and
effective, and made suggestions for improvements, such as the addition
of more map features. The working group predicted that once the maps
are presented to the public, water hauling and soil use behaviors will
change, and dialogue with chapter officials will be initiated to
accelerate further risk reduction efforts. Implications: Because risk
communication is complicated by language barriers, lack of
infrastructure, and historical mistrust of non-Navajo researchers,
mapping provides an easily interpretable medium that can be objectively
viewed by community members and decision makers to evaluate activities
that affect toxicant exposures.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.