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The breach of the dam at Church Rock, NM, in 1979. 

The breach of the dam at Church Rock, NM, in 1979. 

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The Three Mile Island nuclear release exemplifies why there is public and policy interest in the high-technology, highly visible end of the nuclear cycle. The environmental and health consequences of the early steps in the cycle—mining, milling, and processing of uranium ore—may be less appreciated. We examined 2 large unintended acute releases of...

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... This finding is causally linked to the 1979 Church Rock uranium mill tailings spill that discharged more than 1100 tons of radioactive mill waste and 95 million gallons of toxic effluent down Pipeline Arroyo and into the Puerco River which eventually reached the community of Sanders. The level of radioactive release from this spill is much more than the Three Mile Island disaster that occurred just a few months prior (Brugge et al., 2007). ...
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Indigenous peoples experience water insecurity disproportionately. There are many parallels between the injustices experienced by racialized and marginalized populations and Indigenous peoples. However, the water insecurity experienced by Indigenous peoples is distinctly shaped by settler colonialism. This article draws on examples from Canada and the United States to illustrate how jurisdictional and regulatory injustices along with the broader political and economic asymmetries advanced by settler colonial States (re-)produce water insecurity for Indigenous peoples. We conclude by engaging with how Indigenous peoples are pushing back against these arrangements using State and non-State strategies by revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and governance systems.
... These depictions of Edo (renamed 'Tokyo' in 1868) were originally woodblock prints, embellished with mica (And o et al., 2010). In the top panel of Fig. 13, Hiroshige's golden eagle soars over the site of the 1979 Church Rock, New Mexico spill, in which an earthen dam failure resulted in the release of mill tailings into the Rio Puerco, which was the largest release of radioactive material on US soil (Brugge et al., 2007). The seemingly small-scale exposure assessments and generally muted response to the spill and mining legacy in general has left the local community concerned for their long-term health and well-being. ...
Article
The present system of radiological protection has evolved with the advancement of science; evolution of ethical and societal values; and the lessons of our individual, collective, and historical experience. In communicating with each other and members of the public, words are often not enough to completely relay thoughts, ideas, or experiences. Art is a shared experience, beyond the spoken language, where many can find common ground. This paper provides several examples of utilising the visual arts, cinema, and popular culture for communication in different contexts, with discussion of how each relates to the ethical values of the system of radiological protection. In this way, we find inter-relationships between science, ethics, and experience. Experience improves understanding; empathy, or the awareness and feeling of another’s experience, can lead to similar understanding. Drawing on art and the broader human experience will help us improve our communication, promote transparency, and encourage empathy. Through this, we will be more likely to develop trust with stakeholders, which is an essential, yet challenging, aspect of radiological protection.
... Presumably, the environmental health consequences of the early steps in the cycle (mining, milling, and processing of uranium ore) may be less appreciated. United Nuclear Corporation's Church Rock uranium mill in New Mexico, US has had incidents with a magnitude comparable to the Three Mile Island release [30], but they received almost no global attention. ...
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Despite the Fukushima power plant accident (2011), development of next-generation nuclear reactors and rapid expansion of uranium mining in low-income countries are likely to improve prospects for the nuclear industry. Trends in the nuclear energy industry have given rise to new public health challenges. Driven by high power demands, electricity production from nuclear plants has continually risen. Africa and Asia have emerged as major sources of uranium due in part to the poorly enforced labor laws resulting in low operating costs, plus less stringent regulatory frameworks. There is ample evidence of the industry transgressing environmental regulations as well as unethical practices that pose serious threats to public health. Anticipated safety issues associated with new reactors need to be addressed before promoting them as a viable alternative. This article provides recommendations for multilateral institutional collaboration on public health surveillance plus capacity building for young researchers.
... Concern centered on the unpredicted and unseen effects on worker health and safety (Eichstaedt 1994;Brugge, Benally, and Yazzie-Lewis 2006). From the 1950s poor mine safety, especially inadequate ventilation, plagued miners and surrounding residents (Brugge, deLemos, and Bui 2007;Bunnell et al. 2010). Many contaminated sites remain (Arnold 2014). ...
... Many contaminated sites remain (Arnold 2014). Estimated cancer rates among Navajo teenagers living near mine tailings are 17 times the national average (Smith 2007), and accidental spills have put many Tribal members at risk (Graf 1990;Brugge, deLemos, and Bui 2007). Again illustrating intratribal disagreements, some factions within the Navajo Nation continue discussing uranium exploration as a viable economic development tool, despite this history of environmental contamination and health miseries (Navajo Nation Council 2014). ...
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A persistent paradox in the global boom of renewable energy revolves around how little of its vast potential has been developed on Native American lands. For economic and environmental reasons, attempts to reverse this pattern are on the rise. Such plans will encounter many unique conditions, particularly those related to tribal norms, customs, and histories. This article examines the prospect of renewable energy (RE) development on the Navajo Nation of the American Southwest. We examine its potential in light of past energy projects, current jurisdictions and control, and the cultural and social heritage of the Navajo Nation. We find that robust RE development on Navajo Nation lands will remain hindered without accounting for Navajo values, intratribal and tribal–nontribal politics, and their relationship to a multifaceted set of regulatory procedures. Without due consideration of these factors, RE development on Navajo and other Native American lands will continue to be slow and disappointing.
... j Macklin et al. (2003). k Brugge et al. (2007). l Rudolph (1936). ...
... Finally, in the morning hours of July 16th, 1979, an earthen dam at Church Rock Mill (New Mexico) failed, releasing 1100 t of radioactive waste and 360 million l of process effluent into the north fork of the Puerco River. In the ensuing flood contaminants were transported 130 km downstream (Graf, 1990;Brugge et al., 2007). Production resumed two weeks after the accident, and the resulting effluent was placed in unlined pits, further threatening water quality (USEPA, 2010). ...
... The acute release of radioactive waste from the Church Rock tailings impoundment occurred in the same year as that of the Three Mile Island partial core meltdown accident (Rogovin, 1979). It has been estimated that the radiation released was of a similar order of magnitude, with the Church Rock release being estimated at 46 Ci, and the Three Mile Island release at 13 Ci (Brugge et al., 2007). ...
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On a global scale demand for the products of the extractive industries is ever increasing. Extraction of the targeted resource results in the concurrent production of a significant volume of waste material, including tailings, which are mixtures of crushed rock and processing fluids from mills, washeries or concentrators that remain after the extraction of economic metals, minerals, mineral fuels or coal. The volume of tailings is normally far in excess of the liberated resource, and the tailings often contain potentially hazardous contaminants. A priority for a reasonable and responsible mining organization must be to proactively isolate the tailings so as to forestall them from entering groundwaters, rivers, lakes and the wind. There is ample evidence that, should such tailings enter these environments they may contaminate food chains and drinking water. Furthermore, the tailings undergo physical and chemical change after they have been deposited. The chemical changes are most often a function of exposure to atmospheric oxidation and tends to make previously, perhaps safely held contaminants mobile and available. If the tailings are stored under water, contact with the atmosphere is substantially reduced, thereby forestalling oxygen-mediated chemical change. It is therefore accepted practice for tailings to be stored in isolated impoundments under water and behind dams. However, these dams frequently fail, releasing enormous quantities of tailings into river catchments. These accidents pose a serious threat to animal and human health and are of concern for extractive industries and the wider community. It is therefore of importance to understand the nature of the material held within these dams, what best safety practice is for these structures and, should the worst happen, what adverse effects such accidents might have on the wider environment and how these might be mitigated. This paper reviews these factors, covering the characteristics, types and magnitudes, environmental impacts, and remediation of mine tailings dam failures.
... The increased incidence of XP and other hereditary diseases in Navajo has been attributed to a "genetic bottleneck," specifically, the severe population decline that was a consequence of the traumatic "long walk," or forced relocation of the Navajo people from Arizona to New Mexico in the 1860 s (Erickson, 2009). The Navajo reservation, which spans the four corners region of the southwestern USA, is also the site of historically high levels of uranium mining and processing (Brugge and Goble, 2002) and the subsequent contamination and pollution that accompanies those industries (Abdelouas et al., 2000;Brugge et al., 2007;Dawson and Madsen, 2011). Our observation that uranium potentiates the toxicity of UV radiation in NER-deficient cells may have implications for a population with relatively high exposures to uranium, solar radiation, and with both homozygous and heterozygous carriers of XP gene mutations. ...
Article
Depleted uranium (DU) has a chemical toxicity that is independent of its radioactivity. The purpose of this study was to explore the photoactivation of uranyl ion by ultraviolet (UV) radiation as a chemical mechanism of uranium genotoxicity. The ability of UVB (302 nm) and UVA (368 nm) radiation to photoactivate uranyl ion to produce single strand breaks was measured in pBR322 plasmid DNA, and the presence of adducts and apurinic/apyrimidinic sites that could be converted to single strand breaks by heat and piperidine was analyzed. Results showed that DNA lesions in plasmid DNA exposed to UVB- or UVA-activated DU were only slightly heat reactive, but were piperidine sensitive. The cytotoxicity of UVB-activated uranyl ion was measured in repair-proficient and repair-deficient Chinese hamster ovary cells and human keratinocyte HaCaT cells. The cytotoxicity of co-exposures of uranyl ion and UVB radiation was dependent on the order of exposure and was greater than co-exposures of arsenite and UVB radiation. Uranyl ion and UVB radiation were synergistically cytotoxic in cells, and cells exposed to photoactivated DU required different DNA repair pathways than cells exposed to non-photoactivated DU. This study contributes to our understanding of the DNA lesions formed by DU, as well as their repair. Results suggest that excitation of uranyl ion by UV radiation can provide a pathway for uranyl ion to be chemically genotoxic in populations with dermal exposures to uranium and UV radiation, which would make skin an overlooked target organ for uranium exposures. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
... Subsequent enrichment of the uranium may also produce wastes that contain radium. For example, radium is a contaminant at the Sequoyah Fuels Corporation facility in Oklahoma, located adjacent to the Creek and Cherokee Nations (14) . This plant converted yellowcake into uranium hexafl uoride and is being decommissioned. ...
... A draft assessment of the King Tutt Mesa mines in the Navajo Nation (15) found radium levels in soil samples that ranged from < 0.037 to almost 29.6 Bq (picocurie is one trillionth of a curie) of radium per gram of soil by dry weight. At the Sequoyah Fuels Corporation facility in Oklahoma, upper estimates of average radium concentrations in soil are as high as 0.074 Bq/g in soil and > 11.1 Bq/g in sludge under hazardous waste containment ponds (14) . ...
... Despite the limited evidence, one should keep in mind that radium deposits in the bone where blood cells are formed, including cells that become cancerous in leukemia. As noted above, studies have shown that thorium is associated with leukemia (6,44) , and thorium is often a co-contaminant with radium, especially in the early stages of mining and processing uranium ore (14,15) . The possibility that radium 226 causes leukemia in humans needs more investigation. ...
Article
Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element in the environment that can exist as several isotopes. Little information is available on the acute (short-term) non-cancer effects in humans. Radium exposure has resulted in acute leukopenia, anemia, necrosis of the jaw, and other effects. Cancer is the major effect of concern. Radium, via oral exposure, is known to cause bone, head, and nasal passage tumors in humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not classified radium for carcinogenicity.
... Uranium releases, like the massive spill of uranium tailings at Church Rock, NM, USA, in 1979 and the deadly release of uranium hexafl uoride from the Sequoyah Fuels plant in Gore, OK, USA, are not widely known but are comparable in impact with the widely recognized release at Three Mile Island (14) . In the USA, dozens of uranium mill sites had to be " decommissioned " at considerable cost to the taxpayers. ...
Article
Recent plans for a nuclear renaissance in both established and emerging economies have prompted increased interest in uranium mining. With the potential for more uranium mining worldwide and a growth in the literature on the toxicology and epidemiology of uranium and uranium mining, we found it timely to review the current state of knowledge. Here, we present a review of the health effects of uranium mining, with an emphasis on newer findings (2005-2011). Uranium mining can contaminate air, water, and soil. The chemical toxicity of the metal constitutes the primary environmental health hazard, with the radioactivity of uranium a secondary concern. The update of the toxicologic evidence on uranium adds to the established findings regarding nephrotoxicity, genotoxicity, and developmental defects. Additional novel toxicologic findings, including some at the molecular level, are now emerging that raise the biological plausibility of adverse effects on the brain, on reproduction, including estrogenic effects, on gene expression, and on uranium metabolism. Historically, most epidemiology on uranium mining has focused on mine workers and radon exposure. Although that situation is still overwhelmingly true, a smaller emerging literature has begun to form around environmental exposure in residential areas near uranium mining and processing facilities. We present and critique such studies. Clearly, more epidemiologic research is needed to contribute to causal inference. As much damage is irreversible, and possibly cumulative, present efforts must be vigorous to limit environmental uranium contamination and exposure.
... Incidents involving nuclear power plants in the United States, including the Three Mile Island (TMI) power plant, although very serious, fortunately did not result in significant contamination of the surrounding areas. [21] Some are predicting that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident may ultimately be more devastating than the Chernobyl incident, but at the time of writing this article, details were limited. [22,23] The Chernobyl incident ...
... The amount of radiation released at TMI was 13 curies as compared to 270 million curies released in Chernobyl. [21] The most notable civilian nuclear accidents are summarized in Table 4. [28][29][30][31] Most recently, the nuclear incident in Fukishima, Japan, prompted a discussion regarding nuclear power safety. [17] After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami wave on the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, partial core meltdowns occurred at the reactors of the Fukushima nuclear plant. ...
... The predominantly Native American populations involved have not been well studied in terms of long-term effects. [21] In conclusion, one could expect an increasing incidence of cancer following a large-scale nuclear release. Children may be especially vulnerable. ...
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Given the increasing number of operational nuclear reactors worldwide, combined with the continued use of radioactive materials in both healthcare and industry, the unlikely occurrence of a civilian nuclear incident poses a small but real danger. This article provides an overview of the most important historical, medical, and scientific aspects associated with the most notable nuclear incidents to date. We have discussed fundamental principles of radiation monitoring, triage considerations, and the short- and long-term management of radiation exposure victims. The provision and maintenance of adequate radiation safety among first responders and emergency personnel are emphasized. Finally, an outline is included of decontamination, therapeutic, and prophylactic considerations pertaining to exposure to various radioactive materials.
... However, in these professional occupations there is a risk of exposure to higher doses of IR. Such excessive exposure can occur due to the accidents at nuclear power plants [7,40,41], exposure to contaminated waste [42], consequences of nuclear " dirty bombing " [42,43] or due to industrial accidents during mining, milling and processing of radioactive materials [44]. In these situations, the risk of exposure to high doses of radiation increases significantly not only for radiation workers but also for personnel participating in emergency response. ...
Article
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive carbonyl species (RCS) are the major causes of biological tissue damage during exposure to ionizing radiation (IR). The existing strategies to protect normal tissues from the detrimental effects of IR suffer from several shortcomings including highly toxic side effects, unfavorable administration routes, and low efficacy. These shortcomings emphasize a need for radioprotective treatments that combine effectiveness with safety and ease of use. In this paper, we demonstrate that pyridoxamine, a ROS and RCS scavenger with a very favorable safety profile, can inhibit IR-induced gastrointestinal epithelial apoptosis in cell culture and in an animal model. Pyridoxamine was more effective at protecting from radiation-induced apoptosis than amifostine, a synthetic thiol compound and the only FDA-approved radioprotector. We suggest that pyridoxamine has potential as an effective and safe radioprotective agent.