Water Contamination on Navajo Lands – Worse Than Flint? Yes!


By now we’ve all read about the horrific, easily preventable contamination of the water system in Flint Michigan.

The facts in the matter are stark, naked and ugly: the state government there, in the name of mindless austerity measures, saw fit to switch the city’s water system over from Lake Huron water to water taken from the toxic open sewer known as the Flint River. With decades of auto manufacturers poisoning the river with toxic run-off from their manufacturing plants, Flint residents have been subjected to a host of threats since being switched to the foul brew, ranging from lead poisoning to Legionnaires’ disease.

Tragically, this isn’t the first time the government has treated its citizens so shoddily. One need only look a thousand miles or so further west to 4 Corners to see a similar story that goes under-reported but which is not only ongoing, but also involves many parallel plot lines.

And this story is a much older one, too.

The water in the Navajo Nation area of Four Corners, where Colorado meets New Mexico, Arizona and Utah has been poisoned since the 1950s, first as a result of uranium mining, then by coal mining, and most recently by dirty coal-fired power plants.

Navajo water sourced from Black Mesa has long been contaminated by not only Peabody Coal mining operations there, and also by uranium spills and radioactive tailings from Cold War uranium mining. And let’s not forget the recent poisoning of the Animas and San Juan Rivers as a result of the ineptitude of the EPA that turned the river a sickly yellow color. The test results from that latest spill showed water samples from the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado, in the hours after the spill had lead levels greater than 200 times the exposure limit for aquatic life and more than 3,500 times the limit for human ingestion.
Even worse, the US government knew that radiation from the Church Rock, N.M., uranium spill would poison the Navajo’s water by way of the Rio Puerco. Adding to the toxicity of the region’s water, Four Corners is home to three coal-fired power plants that poison the water with runoff from their operations.

All told, it’s a brutal, harsh, poisonous world the US government has seen fit to gift to the native peoples of this land. And it’s difficult to view this sort of cruelty as anything other than a deliberate slap in the face when one considers the recent opening up of a copper mine, permission for which is still being contested, but which was shepherded through congress by Arizona Sen. John McCain, a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The land giveaway to Resolution Copper would not only desecrate Apache ceremonial grounds, it would inevitably lead to more dangerous and toxic poisoning of the Navajo water.

For years, centuries even, Native Americans have asked only for fairness, to be treated just like everyone else. It’s a shame that the government has demonstrated its willingness to do just that by poisoning communities from Flint to Four Corners with equal ferocity.
To learn more about the Navajo fight for clean water, visit www.cleanupthemines.org/dc.


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