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Monument Valley • Just as crews complete the cleanup of the Skyline Mine, a group of health scientists is preparing to launch a sweeping study of how the uranium legacy continues to affect the health of the youngest Navajos.
Toxicologist Johnnye Lewis said no other health study of its kind has taken place on the Navajo Reservation.
"It probably would have been nice to do this 10 years ago," the University of New Mexico researcher said.
But it was only in 2008 that Congress held a hearing about the lingering problems of uranium on the reservation and adopted plans to deal with them.
"We don't know if it's safe or not," Lewis said. "We don't know if just living where we live is putting our children at risk."
Practical issues make it difficult to do studies such as these, she said. There are too few people and too few cases for a scientifically sound epidemiology study.
But this work also will include biomonitoring of urine and blood samples to measure the extent of contamination in mothers and their babies.
Researchers will try to enroll women as early in their pregnancies as possible 1,500 in the first year is the goal. They will look at contaminants in homes and the air, and perform radiation screenings and nutritional studies, too.
Other participants in the study include the Centers for Disease Control, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Indian Health Service and the Navajo Division of Health.
Lewis said participants will benefit from early intervention. Researchers will gain general statistics about prenatal health. "The data will provide a picture of where things are."
Ultimately, the information also will help rank the hazards of 1,100 high-radiation sites around the reservation. Then decision-makers will have a better idea of which ones to clean up first.
"At some point," she said, "you have to prioritize."