Wayne Lynch was told last July that the water on his ranch in Sanders, Arizona contains dangerously high levels of uranium.
“There’s no other water source we have,” says Lynch. “There’s no other well that they could tap into.”
The deplorable water conditions affect much of the area surrounding Lynch’s homestead ranch. Many of the members of Lynch’s community in Sanders have been diagnosed with cancer likely caused by toxic water consumption— his mother, his aunt, and his grandmother among them.
Lynch’s story is but one of many of the Indigenous American community enduring toxic and lethal water conditions. Native Americans have, for decades, faced horrific water contamination issues— worse than those of Flint, Michigan that fail to be identified by the mainstream public media.
Since the 1950s, the Navajo Nation has faced toxic water polluted by uranium mining sources used to fuel the nuclear industry. Coal mining and coal-fired power plants have exacerbated the problem. Toxic spills in the Animas and San Juan rivers from a reckless attempt to address the abandoned Gold King Mine are the most recent attack on the Navajo water supply.
There is no law that requires the government or corporations to clean up after exploiting uranium resources through mining. Indigenous populations have thus been disproportionately affected as approximately 75 percent of Abandoned Uranium Mines (AUMs) are located on federal and tribal lands. South Dakota alone has 272 AUMs, which contaminate waterways such as the Cheyenne River.
Indigenous representatives from the Northern Great Plains & Southwest recently gathered in Washington DC to raise awareness about the radioactive pollution affecting their communities. Framing the issue as an environmental crisis, members of the group Clean Up the Mines! protested outside of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) building. Group members also met with EPA officials to demand that studies be conducted on radiation levels in water supplies and efforts be extended to clean up uranium waste.
“Millions of people in the United States are being exposed as nuclear radiation victims on a daily basis,” explains Klee Benally of Clean Up the Mines! “Exposure to radioactive pollution has been linked to cancer, genetic defects, Navajo Neuropathy, and increases in mortality.”
The Clean Up the Mines! protesters also delivered a letter to the EPA from Lynch, in hopes that it will convince the agency to do more testing in his community and consider drilling new, deeper wells that would bypass the aquifer that holds the contaminated water.
For now, the group will continue to press for change by spreading awareness and seeking greater public visibility on the issue of the Indigenous water crisis.
“We are not just victims,” commented Charmaine White Face, scientist and member of the Oglala Sioux community, “we are survivors. And we are still resisting.”