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Navajo Council Requests Help With Drinking Water Uranium Contamination

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The Navajo Council wants federal, state and county governments to ensure a clean water source for the eastern Arizona town of Sanders. It borders the Navajo Nation, and uranium in the drinking water there far exceeds federal standards. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Navajo officials say a uranium waste spill and abandoned mines that date back to the Cold War have contaminated Sanders’ water. Testing in 2015 revealed high levels of uranium. The metal has been linked to cancer, kidney disease and other health problems.

The tribal council unanimously passed a bill demanding the Environmental Protection Agency, Apache County and the state fund a new well for the town’s schools. Students have had to use bottled water since last year.

"Water is life—no one can live without water," says  Delegate Raymond Smith Jr., who sponsored the legislation. "There’s economic development that’s coming in, and the population’s growing and the community’s going to be growing and thriving. So we need to address this issue and work for the future and to help one another."

Smith says he wants a new water source developed by the beginning of the next school year. The bill also calls for new pipes in schools and residential areas, along with filtration and long-term monitoring.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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