Water contamination threat continues for the Navajo Nation

By Lily Qi and Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

Uranium, arsenic, lead … have you ever thought about these metals contaminating the water you use and drink every day? Once they reach a certain level, these elements can cause illness and even endanger your life. This is what has been happening in the Navajo Nation with its centuries old history and culture.

Spread across portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation possesses the largest land among Indigenous tribes. The territory encompasses spectacular scenery across vast areas but that makes it harder to test and address the water contamination problem on this land.

How severe is the contamination? Earlier this month, we took a reporting trip to the Navajo Nation to observe and inquire. Listen to the podcast and see what we found out about the water there.

Podcast by Lily Qi and Lu Zhao/Medill

Elsie went to Capitol Hill in 2008 to screen the documentary “The Return of Navajo Boy,” directed by Jeff Spitz. (Courtesy of Groundswell Educational Films)
A still from Jeff Spitz’s film “The Return of Navajo Boy” showing Elsie’s home. “If you were in the part of Monument Valley where they live you are surrounded by red rocks; every rock there is red,” Spitz said. (Courtesy of Jeff Spitz)
Over 500 abandoned uranium mines spread across Navajo Nation. (US EPA)
Canyon de Chelly Nation Monument, a national park in northeastern Arizona on the Navajo reservation. (Lu Zhao/Medill)
Photo at top: A Map shows the water quality of wells on the Navajo Nation. Red, yellow and green dots represent more, some and less risk. (Courtesy of Franz Geiger, Northwestern University)