A well

  • Glenda Rangel at one of the wells on her family's compound. The wells exceed standards for uranium in drinking water, but some people still drink from them. FLORENCE WILLIAMS

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "On Cancer’s Trail."

Between Haystack Rock and Mount Taylor, on an expansive sweep of desert near the eastern edge of the Navajo Reservation, Kerr McGee and Homestake mined uranium ore for decades, hauling it down the road in uncovered trucks. The Homestake Mill is now a Superfund site, the final resting place for 7 million tons of tailings. There might be more to come: Uranium Resources Inc., a Texas-based company, wants to reopen the Ambrosia Lake mine. This time around, though, the company says that the tailings will be "dry" and stored belowground in lined beds.

According to locals, the boom around here began when a Navajo named Paddy Martinez walked into a bar in 1950 and set off a Geiger counter. He'd been dozing under a limestone ledge and woke up covered in yellow dust. Martinez's granddaughter, Glenda Rangel, still lives on the family compound just north of Prewitt, N.M. Although 350 million pounds of uranium ore eventually made its way to daylight, her family never benefited from the discovery, she says.

On a windy day in March, Rangel's husband, Ernest, practices his golf putt on a rug in the living room. Her 12-year-old son, Billy, is wriggling into chaps to practice some calf roping. On either side of the family compound, two wells pump up groundwater into large, round, open tanks. For years, the tanks have been labeled "For livestock use only," but some people in the area still haul drinking water from them. "We're told not to, but I know some people who still do because it tastes better," Rangel says. Both wells were recently tested by the DiNeh project - a partnership between the tribe, the University of New Mexico and the Southwest Research and Information Center - and were found to exceed Navajo EPA and U.S. EPA standards for uranium in human drinking water. Rangel's house got indoor plumbing in 1978, but she says, "I drank (the water) as a girl. I swam in the tanks, both me and my kids. I don't really think about it. I don't want to start thinking about it."

Rangel was offered a chance to participate in a DiNeh health survey. She would have received $15 for doing so, but she declined. Still, she is troubled by questions about her family's health. "I know a couple of people who died from breast cancer around here. My older sister died of uterine cancer in her early 40s. I don't know how much exposure she got. Now, we're seeing different types of cancer in my generation. I get migraines. I can't work," she says.

She peers into the clear, cool water shimmering in the glare of the high desert. The water looks inviting.

"I wouldn't let my kids swim in there now."

High Country News Classifieds
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL OFFICE MANAGER - BOOKKEEPER
    The Wyoming Outdoor Council is seeking an office manager-bookkeeper to join our team. The office manager-bookkeeper supports the program and administrative functions of the Wyoming...
  • HEALTHY RIVERS SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY
    WRA seeks a passionate attorney to join our Healthy Rivers team. The Senior Staff Attorney will research and advocate for wiser water management and updated...
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and will be accepted until: February 03, 2020. Overview Conservation Voters for Idaho (CVI) protects Idaho's environment...
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...