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New Mexico Activities

American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) Navajo Nation Grand Rounds on Hazards of Uranium Tailings

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Department of Energy (DOE), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Indian Health Service (IHS) develop a coordinated five-year plan to address the health and environmental impacts of uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation (NN). The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) have participated in congressional briefings on this subject.

In support of the 5 agency, 5-year plan, ATSDR conducted Grand Rounds training for medical professionals at the Navajo Nation. The subject of the training was uranium exposure, but also touched on arsenic in drinking water which is of concern to the tribe. The training was conducted through the Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine’s (DTEM) cooperative agreement with the American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) and included technical input from the ASTDR Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC) and the ATSDR Division of Regional Operations (DRO). A physician with board-certification in toxicology was selected by ACMT to conduct the training which took place in December 2008 at four IHS clinics located in the Navajo communities of Tuba City, AZ; Kayenta, AZ; Chinle, AZ; and Shiprock, NM. The development of this training was an interdisciplinary effort with input from the IHS, EPA, ACMT, NCEH, Navajo Nation, University of New Mexico (UNM), Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), and others.

Navajo Nation Community Health Representative (CHR) Training

On July 13-14, 2009, Community Health Representatives (CHRs) from the Navajo Nation Health Clinics were provided training to prepare them to deliver individual bio-monitoring results to approximately 300 households that participated in a 2008 investigation of drinking water exposures. The drinking water study was conducted by the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) Health Studies Branch (HSB) and the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA). The 2008 investigation focused on the extent to which non-regulated water sources represent a public health threat to members of the Navajo Nation. The water study investigation protocol required that each participant be provided their individual bio-monitoring results through a personally delivered letter. ATSDR’s Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC) and Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine (DTEM) collaborated with the HSB and the NCEH/ATSDR Office of Tribal Affairs to develop the specialized training.

The CHR training provided information on 1) the biomonitoring laboratory results and the potential health effects of those laboratory findings on the health of individuals who participated in the bio-monitoring study; and 2) background information on bacteria and chemical water contamination found in non-regulated Navajo Nation wells and springs that were potential threats to public health when used as a drinking water source.. The third aspect of the training was to promote safe water hauling practices that included steps necessary to sanitize water containers as well as types of containers appropriate for the hauling and storage of drinking water. The training was designed to provide opportunities for the CHRs to translate the materials into Navajo. Education examples were developed that reinforced the importance of only using water from regulated wells or springs for cooking and drinking as a way to protect and improve individual and family health. A two-sided desktop flip chart was developed as a job-aid for use by the CHR’s when individual results were delivered to tribal members.

More than 50 CHRs and NNEPA staff participated in the 2-day workshop. The CHRs were then better prepared to educate the families associated with the 300 participating households involved in the study. Dissemination of the individual test results to tribal members began soon after the conclusion of the workshop.

Technical Support and Data Analysis for Ft. Wingate Army Base Closure and Transfer of Lands to the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Zuni

The Fort Wingate Army Depot, located about eight miles east of Gallup, NM, closed in January 1993 after nearly a century and a half of military uses, first as a cavalry post, then as a munitions depot. Environmental investigation and cleanup efforts, including munitions clearance, have been made on a nearly continuous basis since 1994. Major environmental concerns at this site include munitions hazards and groundwater contamination by explosives and nitrates. On December 31, 2005, the New Mexico Environment Department's (NMED) RCRA permit came into effect, establishing a scheduled cleanup of the facility.

In November 2008, an ATSDR Site Remediation and Assessment Branch (SRAB) representative and the NCEH/ATSDR Tribal Liaison participated in a meeting with the US Army, Navajo Nation representatives, Pueblo of Zuni representatives, and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that was held in Gallup, NM. SRAB was asked to review various documents and to provide input on the environmental public health exposure pathways that have the potential to impact future land use options. The US Army is conducting a phased assessment of soil, water and other media in preparation for the transfer of lands to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) who will then facilitate the distribution of lands to the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Zuni.

SRAB provided input to the Department of Defense (DOD) during 2009 on the sampling and risk assessment methodology for the site and continues to collaborate with the two tribes, the US Army, and NMED to ensure their environmental health concerns are addressed.

EPA Region 6 Listening Session on Historical Uranium Issues

At the requested of the EPA Region 6 Superfund Director, ATSDR/DRO Region 6 staff participated in a Listening Session in Albuquerque, NM on August 11, 2009. EPA hosted a meeting with Environmental Justice community members and community representatives in an open discussion on historical uranium mine tailing waste issues in the State of New Mexico and impacts on Tribal lands and health concerns. A joint site visit of mining and milling sites was also provided to better understand the legacy issue of historical uranium mining activities that impacts Pueblo lands and several communities in the Grants, NM area.

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