Analysis of Uranium Exposure in the Eastern Agency of Navajo NationEPA Grant Number: F07C30549
Title: Analysis of Uranium Exposure in the Eastern Agency of Navajo Nation
Investigators: George, Christine
Institution: Columbia University in the City of New York
EPA Project Officer: Jones, Brandon
Project Period: January 1, 2007 through January 1, 2010
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2007) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Economics and Decision Sciences , Fellowship - Environmental Decision Making , Tribal Environmental Health Research
Many Navajo communities in eastern agency of Navajo Nation in New Mexico are currently at risk for uranium exposure from drinking contaminated water from unregulated water sources, from living within close proximity to soil-deposited contaminants from mine and mill sites, and from working in mines and mills. Community members, health-care providers, and tribal leaders have expressed concern that broader public health impacts have resulted from the environmental exposures to unremediated mine and mill sites, yet no epidemiological evaluation of community health and exposures has ever be done. Uranium compounds can cause damage to kidney cells that can ultimately result in kidney failure. This project will assess the health of sheep relative to uranium exposure and retention. Results will be useful in assessing the contribution of sheep, a major part of the Navajo diet, to overall exposure. I will evaluate the usefulness of this non-human model as an indicator of potential kidney damage in communities where complex environmental heavy-metal exposures may occur.
The research will begin by having a focus group where there will be a meeting with community members and leaders to learn about cultural practices behind sheep herding in the Navajo Community. This information will be used to develop methods for collecting urine from cattle and sheep. The Community Environmental Health Workers will be trained on sample collection methods so they can assist in sample collection of urine, sheep tissue, and plant samples. The urine samples will be assayed for kidney biomarkers to evaluate if kidney damage is present. The sheep tissue will be dissected to observe any tubular damage to the kidneys. All of the exposure data collected will be combined into an overall kidney risk model to determine the risk to those residents living in the area from consuming animal products. All the results of the study will be presented to the community. The final stage of the project will be developing recommendations and intervention strategies to reduce exposure.
The results of the proposed research will provide information on the health of the sheep, their potential to serve as an exposure pathway to humans, and will serve as a important non-human model to study kidney health for community’s exposed to heavy metals. The utility of this non-human model is a result of being able to compare the exposures, the urine uranium concentration, the biomarker changes, and the ultimate pathology of the kidney in the same animals living within the same environment as the community. This information will be generalizable to other communities facing similar exposures.
Many Navajo communities in eastern agency of Navajo Nation in New Mexico are currently at risk for uranium exposure from contaminated drinking water, soil contaminants, and from working in mines and mills. Uranium compounds can cause damage to kidney cells that can ultimately result in kidney failure. This study will assess the contribution of sheep, a major part of the Navajo diet, to overall exposure. The study will evaluate the usefulness of this non-human model as an indicator of potential kidney damage in communities where complex environmental heavy-metal exposures may occur.