American Indians have spent decades working in Colorado Plateau mines. In order to obtain the soft, yellow uranium ore present, they must operate a drill that plunges deep into the rock. This same uranium which was mined by countless American Indian workers was used inside of nuclear weapons, which were responsible for America’s eventual victory during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, these American Indian miners have themselves become casualties of the Cold War as a result of their work. Due to the high level of radiation present in these Colorado mines, many of the workers are suffering from cancer and other illnesses, or have already succumbed to the diseases. Nearly everyone in this community has either lost someone very close to them or are fighting for their own health.
The arms of these miners are webbed with scars caused by dialysis. The dialysis is necessary as many of the workers are already suffering with kidney failure. The majority of workers blamed the drinking water that was in the mines, and traces of radioactive minerals in it have been proven scientifically.
Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990. This act was designed to assist uranium miners that are enduring various health problems due to the work they performed in the radioactive mines. America’s nuclear weapons were the primary benefactor of the mining work executed in those mines.
According to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, each underground uranium miner is given $100,000. The condition being that they experience one of six lung diseases linked to radiation exposure. However, hundreds of Indian miners eligible for this payment, to this day have still not seen a penny.
The reason for this is the compensation law itself has set up almost impossible hurdles for these Indian miners. One such requirement is that the paperwork required must be filled out in English. For many American Indians, English is a foreign language that is not easily understood.
The Office of Navajo Uranium Workers has submitted 242 applications to the US Government, and only 96 of these have successfully gone through. Overall 1,314 former uranium mines claims have been approved by the Justice Department. But there have been an additional 1,316 applications denied.
Check stubs in the form of a record of having work and other documentation are required to prove that a worker had spent so much time working in the mines. However, for many people the damage occurred decades ago and those records have long since been lost or thrown out. In addition, trying to recover the documentation through the authorities has been difficult.
The uranium mines first opened on and around the Navajo Indian Reservation in 1947. At the time, the jobs and occupations which opened up as a result were welcomed. People were happy to have the work despite the low wages and harsh conditions.
Radon poses one of the biggest dangers in the mines. Decaying uranium produces this odorless, invisible, radioactive gas. A majority of the lung issues that have affected these miners was likely cause my exposure to radon, making them candidates for compensation from the government.
Former miners and tribal officials plan to meet with Congress this fall in hopes of making changes to the compensation law so that it is easier for former miners’ claims to be approved. The challenge facing the government is that all Navajo miners believe that they are entitled to the compensation based solely on their work.