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Navajo Nation to Test Air Quality in Cove for Uranium Mine Pollution


The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the Navajo Nation nearly 90,000 dollars to study air quality in the town of Cove. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, many in the area worry that radioactive dust from nearby abandoned uranium mines is threatening the community.

The study will detect whether metals like uranium, arsenic and lead, as well as radionuclides like thorium and radium are polluting the air in Cove. Community members are concerned winds could be transporting airborne particulate matter as the EPA and tribal officials attempt to clean up more than 30 abandoned mines near the town.

Credit U.S. EPA
EPA and members of the National Center for Radiation Field Operations tested for radon near a mine in Cove, Ariz., in 2017.

Monitoring will begin this spring for the year-long study and will be led by the Navajo EPA.

The Cove area has one of the highest concentrations of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, and to date, none have been fully cleaned up.

There are more than 500 total abandoned mines on or near the Navajo tribal lands leftover from the Cold War, when 30 million tons of uranium were mined in the area.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered 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 Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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