Largest U.S. Uranium Spill Still Impacts Navajo Community

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1979 spill still haunts communtiy

CHURCH ROCK, NEW MEXICO — For ex-uranium miner Thompson Bell, life on the uranium-contaminated land 12 miles north of Church Rock has always been an internal problem.

After experiencing chest pains and having trouble breathing, Bell visited a clinic in Farmington, New Mexico, where the doctor only needed to know where he lived to figure out his condition.

“The doctor said that he has seen these chest symptoms before, from radiation contamination, he told me,” said Bell to the crowd gathered at the Uranium Tailings Spill Commemoration at Red Water Pond Road in Red Water, New Mexico last Thursday.

RY-red-water-pond5-300x200In the early morning hours of July 16, 1979, in the community of Red Water, a dam built by United Nuclear Corp. to hold 1,000 tons of radioactive mill waste and 90 million gallons of acidic and radioactive liquids broke, leaving the radioactive waste to flow into the Rio Puerco, through Gallup and across nine Navajo Nation chapters.

Some residents remember the green liquid coming to them while herding sheep, and some were even covered in it by the time they returned home to their families.

Members of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment Organization and Red Water Pond Road Community Association gathered to host the 7th Annual Uranium Commemoration to honor the people who lost their lives or who are suffering health conditions from the spill that occurred 36 years earlier.

Bell, along with members of Navajo Nation Government, the NWNM, activists and concerned citizens gathered for the Uranium Commemoration in the 90-degree heat.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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