'We Didn't Know We Were Poisoning Ourselves': Deadly Legacy Of Uranium Boom

"The Diné helped dig the raw materials to build the US’s nuclear arsenal, but were never told of the danger".

"Allen Tsosie was just 14 when he went to work in the uranium mines in the Lukachukai mountains near Cove, Arizona.

Tsosie was one of thousands of Navajos who took jobs in the mines, starting in the 1940s. They worked without masks or ventilation to disperse the lethal radon gas, and they were never told the rocks they were handling – leetso in the Diné language, or yellow dirt – were deadly.

In Cove, “you see a lot of women and children,” said Kathleen Tsosie, Allen’s daughter, because hundreds of men who worked in the mines have died.

Between 1944 and 1986, miners excavated nearly 30m tons of uranium ore – material used to develop nuclear weapons – from the Diné homelands, which spread across north-west New Mexico and north-east Arizona, and a sliver of southern Utah. These workers developed respiratory illnesses like lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and silicosis at alarming rates.

Allen, who worked in the mines for three decades, was among the victims: he died of lung cancer in 1985, at age 47."

Tracy Tullis reports for the Guardian with photographs by Adria Malcolm November 20, 2023.

Source: Guardian, 11/21/2023