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University of New Mexico

Superfund Research Program

Community Engagement Core

Project Leader: Christopher L. Shuey (Southwest Research and Information Center)
Co-Investigator: David Begay
Grant Number: P42ES025589
Funding Period: 2022-2027
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Project Summary (2022-2027)

The overall goal of the Metal Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands of the Southwest (METALS) Community Engagement Core (CEC) is to direct prevention and intervention strategies to ensure that residents and leaders across partner communities are involved in every step of the research at the community level and that researchers are engaged in and with the communities. CEC synergizes Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Western Scientific methods to increase understanding of multiple-pathway exposures to abandoned uranium mine (AUM) wastes and inform strategies to reduce releases of hazardous substances — such as uranium, vanadium, arsenic, and other metals — thereby reducing human exposures.

The Core’s current community partners are Blue Gap-Tachee Chapter of the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona; Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico; and Red Water Pond Road Community Association on the Navajo Nation near Gallup, New Mexico. A new community partner — the Cameron Agricultural Ad Hoc Committee (CAAHC), a project of Cameron Chapter of the Navajo Nation — joined the METALS SRP because of a long history of collaborations with METALS partner Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC). All four are impacted by AUMs that date back to the 1950s, range in size from a few acres to 2,700 acres (the Jackpile open pit mine on Laguna Pueblo), and have had varying levels of remediation, from virtually none to measures that reduce immediate safety hazards at the mine sites but are lacking long-term control of waste piles and hazardous substances releases.

Like the Pueblo of Laguna, CAAHC is developing farming in an area surrounded by abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) and is concerned about impacts of the AUMs on the safety of crops grown on the farmlands. CEC collaborates with the METALS environmental projects to collect meteorological and particulate matter (PM) data to inform air-dispersion modeling and toxicity assessments of submicron dust particles, and with the biomedical projects to assist in conducting health surveys and biospecimen collections among community members to assess their exposures to toxic trace metals.

Staff of SRIC and METALS partner Indigenous Education Institute form the CEC’s Indigenous Science Team (IST) that works closely with these communities, linking them with UNM researchers in the environmental and biological sciences and research translation. The IST will hold quarterly webinars featuring Native scholars discussing how principles of Indigenous Science can be applied to remediation of abandoned uranium mines to supplement innovative remediation strategies proposed by METALS Project ESE Remed and the routine clean-up methods proffered by USEPA under authority of the Superfund law. Online workshops on remediation science and policy will empower the research group’s community partners to be full participants in remediation decisions by federal and tribal regulatory agencies. The webinars will aim to create a space for collaborative design processes, TEK formulations, and place-based strategies for reducing impacts to community partners’ agricultural lands and water.

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