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Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 130–141

Topical Collection on Ethics and Policy


Purpose of ReviewMore than a century of hard rock mining has left a legacy of >160,000 abandoned mines in the Western USA that are home to the majority of Native American lands. This article describes how abrogation of treaty rights, ineffective policies, lack of infrastructure, and a lack of research in Native communities converge to create chronic exposure, ill-defined risks, and tribal health concerns.

Recent FindingsRecent results show that Native Americans living near abandoned uranium mines have an increased likelihood for kidney disease and hypertension, and an increased likelihood of developing multiple chronic diseases linked to their proximity to the mine waste and activities bringing them in contact with the waste. Biomonitoring confirms higher than expected exposure to uranium and associated metals in the waste in adults, neonates, and children in these communities.

SummaryThese sites will not be cleaned up for many generations making it critical to understand and prioritize exposure-toxicity relationships in Native populations to appropriately allocate limited resources to protect health. Recent initiatives, in partnership with Native communities, recognize these needs and support development of tribal research capacity to ensure that research respectful of tribal culture and policies can address concerns in the future. In addition, recognition of the risks posed by these abandoned sites should inform policy change to protect community health in the future.

KeywordsAbandoned mines Native Americans Environmental health Environmental justice Heavy metals Environmental policy This article is part of the Topical Collection on Ethics and Policy

Autor: Johnnye Lewis - Joseph Hoover - Debra MacKenzie


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