Scientists have long known that uranium damages human cells. But in over six decades of atomic health testing, no one had ever noticed that uranium, at low doses, can act like an estrogen. No one, that is, until recently, when Raymond-Whish and her coworkers observed some unusual effects in lab animals.
Uranium can be found in several of the Jurassic sandstones that lie beneath the Four Corners region like a wrecked layered pastry. The target of frenzied mining throughout the Cold War, uranium ore has been wrenched from the ground, pulverized, milled and tossed in tailings across the Navajo Reservation. Low-level radioactive waste has dissolved into groundwater, escaped onto dust particles and blown off thousands of passing trucks to settle uneasily on surface soils. Over 1,000 abandoned uranium mines pockmark Navajo lands, but only half of them have been reclaimed. Exposure to uranium and its daughter elements has been linked to lung cancer, kidney damage and bone disease in Navajos, and it is the suspected culprit in numerous other medical conditions, from degenerative nerve disease and birth defects to a variety of other cancers.
May 26, 2008 by Florence Williams