University of New Mexico
Superfund Research Program
UNM Metal Exposure Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest (METALS) Superfund Research Program
Center Director: Johnnye L. Lewis
Grant Number: P42ES025589
Funding Period: 2017-2022
The University of New Mexico Metal Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest Superfund Research Program Center (UNM METALS) focuses on risk reduction for Native Americans exposed to hazardous metals mixtures from abandoned uranium mine waste. Specifically, UNM METALS focuses on site-specific physical, mineralogic, and biogeochemical properties of the waste that alter immune function and DNA repair in tribal populations. The biomedical research at the Center focuses on major uncertainties in these exposure/outcome relationships, while environmental projects complement this research by exploiting characteristics that impact mobility and toxicity; developing, and testing novel cost-effective metals immobilization and removal strategies to reduce risks in ways compatible with tribal culture; and designing risk avoidance/warning systems.
Recognizing that complete remediation of these sites remains decades away, UNM METALS uses multi-directional Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores to develop and implement trans-generational approaches to risk communication and risk avoidance that integrate indigenous learning models (e.g., tribal ecological knowledge) and Western science. The UNM METALS Center integrates the Center's trainees with multi-directional training of community members and research staff so that local knowledge of mining impacts and health problems informs air and water monitoring needs to support the environmental and biomedical research projects and build a foundation of transdisciplinary, partnered research for the next generation.
The UNM METALS Center has developed partnerships with three Native American communities living in close proximity to unique waste sites.
- The Laguna Pueblo community living with the abandoned > 8,000 acre site encompassing the 3000 acre open pit Jackpile Mine listed on the Superfund National Priorities List.
- Two Navajo communities living in proximity to two separate sites being addressed through CERCLA assessment as part of the US Environmental Protection Agency Congressionally mandated "Five-Year Plan to Address Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation." The two sites are 1) Red Water Pond Road adjacent to the Northeast Church Rock Mine; and 2) Tachee-Blue Gap community living next to the Claim 28 waste site.
In summary, the researchers are working closely with communities, and tribal and federal agencies, to identify site-specific factors that may impact site clean-up, and develop solutions that build on site properties to immobilize and remove metals; reduce risk in ways that are holistic, predictable, and sustainable; and test biological interventions to reduce toxicity.