Development of Risk Maps to Minimize Uranium Exposures in the Navajo Churchrock Mining District

By Jamie L deLemos

Ed. note: This paper was originally published in Environmental Health.

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 health impacts.

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 method.

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.

Read the entire paper (pdf).

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.

© 2009 deLemos et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Published Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Written by Jamie L deLemos

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