By Christina Tsosie | Gallup Independent

GALLUP – McKinley County Board of Commissioners was presented with a proposal from the Conservation Voters of New Mexico Education Fund imploring the board to support its efforts to create a Blue Ribbon Uranium Task Force in McKinley County.

Percy B. Anderson, accompanied by Janene Yazzie, conducted a presentation for the board of commissioners outlining the primary goals of the task force.

“The concept of this task force will be composed of a working group made up of residents working with allies and then the task force will be made up of residents of the county,” Anderson said. “Then there will be an advisory group who will be members with experience in a particular field who will provide advice to task force members. Members of the advisory group can be non-residents of the county.”

Purpose of the task force

The purpose of the task force will be a collaborated effort to educate and inform the general public of the adverse effects uranium mining has had on residents of McKinley County.

Yazzie addressed the board, stating that the collected effort has been spurred on the behalf of impacted communities.

“We know that historic uranium development, both mining and milling has caused significant damage to our county’s natural resources, especially to our air, water and soil,” Yazzie said. “We know that, despite technological advancements, contemporary uranium development still has a poor record of preventing and cleaning up radioactive and toxic contamination. We are still saddled with sites that have not been remedied.”

Adverse effects of uranium development

Yazzie described the adverse effects uranium development has on humans, stating exposure can cause various cancers and kidney disease, and “living in close proximity to unremediated and inadequately remediated uranium mines and mill sites is associated with significantly increased risks of heart disease, hypertension, autoimmune disease and birth defects.”

“We are sitting in a county that has just commemorated 40 years since the 1979 Churchrock uranium mill tailing spill,” Yazzie said. “We are sitting in a county where the leading cause of death for McKinley County residents is cancer, followed by heart disease, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.”

With that, Yazzie said there is a great need for more research and data when it comes to documenting the links between exposure and some of the issues that county residents face. The uranium task force will work to provide research, outreach and data collection.

Commissioner Billy Moore said he was confused about the purpose of the task force stating that he saw it more as a collected effort to protest uranium mining.

“I’m concerned about the activism,” Moore said. “Yes, we have records of the Churchrock accident, but when you first look at the Blue Ribbon Task force, I thought it would be more about education and looking at both sides of uranium development and not just the bad side of it.”

Moore then went on to cite that there are always dangers when it comes to developing natural resources, but that it’s not always “all bad.” He suggested that the task force look at both sides, rather than just be one-sided.

Yazzie then said that members of the task force will fairly represent both sides.

Miscommunication?

With that, Commissioner Bill Lee thanked Yazzie and Anderson for their presentation and said he supports their efforts.

“For the past several months, this group has struggled to maintain meetings and members,” he said. “There’s been a lot of changes and I don’t know if I’m included in the emails, but I know that there’s been a reorganization in the group, so I would like to be included in updates. Cleanup of the sites must be done and I’m glad to see that you’re committed to collecting data, committed to this group, but I would like to see consistency in this group.”

Anderson said he has sent emails to Lee requesting to meet and has included him on emails, but has not received a response. The two said they would ensure they have the other’s current email address.

“I would just really like to have this commission’s support,” he said.

Lee said the commission has already pledged its support, but maintains the board will not create or run the task force.

Anderson then asked for action to be taken by the commission, however, the item was not up for action, being that it was only a presentation. No action was taken.