I became interested in science from seeing the abandoned uranium mines in Oljato, Utah. My cousin and I used to go into these abandoned uranium mines to explore. We would go to the end of the mines if we can, that was our main objective. Why we did that was because we were both curious. There was no sign or fence to warn the public about the dangers of the abandoned uranium mines. In addition, there was no one warning the public about the health risk associated with the abandoned uranium mines. This was way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
I decided to become involved with the clean-up and the research side of the exposure to abandoned uranium mines because my grandfather died of cancer. He was a former uranium mine worker. I will never forgot that morning when I received the message that my grandfather had three hours to live. I was going to school at Northern Arizona University and my grandfather was in Monticello, Utah. There was no chance that I could make it in three hours but I tried anyways. I cried a bit on my way back to Utah. I almost dropped out of school when my grandfather passed away. I remembered one of his teachings, which inspired me to keep moving forward. From all the experience that I had with research and outreach efforts, I know now that they are many people that experienced or experiencing the same situation that I went through.
So now, I am contributing to the clean-up effort being done on Navajo Nation by the tribe, other federal agencies, and universities, along with Dine’ College. They are still many more work that needs to be done when it comes to uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation.
Tommy Rock is a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico’s American Studies program. His focus is on health policy related to uranium contamination.