Lab Matters Summer 2018 - Page 8

feature

Elevating the Role of PHLs in Reducing Health Disparities

by Nancy Maddox , MPH , writer
The southeast corner of Utah is often referred to as “ canyon country ;” a place where the gods indulged a taste for grandeur . Canyonlands National Park , Hovenweep National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument are all here , among a profusion of protected natural areas and sacred Native American sites .
Also here ? The only active conventional uranium plant in the US — White Mesa Mill , owned by the Canadian company , Energy Fuels .
And just three miles beyond that facility — with a licensed capacity of over eight million pounds of uranium per year — lies the small White Mesa reservation of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe , which is headquartered in Towaoc , Colorado .
Yolanda Badback has lived on White Mesa all her life , along with her four children , ages 15 to 23 . And for much of her life , she has been concerned about what ’ s coming into the nearby mill — which processes locally-mined uranium , plus toxic debris hauled in from across North America — and what ’ s going out .
Some of Badback ’ s neighbors lack access to transportation , so to reach the nearest off-reservation town of Blanding , they walk along US Route 191 , close to the big rigs carrying radioactive waste to the mill . Badback wonders how much exposure those neighbors suffer . She has other concerns , as well .
“ We ’ re just downstream from the mill ,” she said . “ If there were a leak in the [ tailing ] pond , we don ’ t want it getting into our well water .” She also worries about toxic contamination in the deer that community members hunt and eat to celebrate their culture , in the wildforaged herbs they use to “ heal our body , if we ’ re sick ,” and in the air blown across hundreds of acres of tailing ponds .
Thanks to a partnership between Ute Mountain Ute Tribal authorities and the Utah Department of Health , some tribal members no longer have to guess their exposure to key toxicants . As part of the Four Corners States Biomonitoring Consortium , the Utah Public Health Laboratory has been studying residents ’ exposure to common toxicants for about a decade . Now in its second cycle of funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ), the consortium is measuring heavy metals , pesticide chemicals , disinfectant and deodorant byproducts and phthalate metabolites in human specimens from across the region .
Said Laboratory Director Robyn Atkinson- Dunn , PhD , “ We ’ ve been trying to determine where throughout the state we could focus , communities that maybe
6 LAB MATTERS Summer 2018
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feature Elevating the Role of PHLs in Reducing Health Disparities by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer The southeast corner of Utah is often referred to as “canyon country;” a place where the gods indulged a taste for grandeur. Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument are all here, among a profusion of protected natural areas and sacred Native American sites. Also here? The only active conventional uranium plant in the US—White Mesa Mill, owned by the Canadian company, Energy Fuels. And just three miles beyond that facility— with a licensed capacity of over eight million pounds of uranium per year—lies the small White Mesa reservation of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which is headquartered in Towaoc, Colorado. Yolanda Badback has lived on White Mesa all her life, along with her four children, 6 LAB MATTERS Summer 2018 ages 15 to 23. And for much of her life, she has been concerned about what’s coming into the nearby mill—which processes locally-mined uranium, plus toxic debris hauled in from across North America— and what’s going out. Some of Badback’s neighbors lack access to transportation, so to reach the nearest off-reservation town of Blanding, they walk along US Route 191, close to the big rigs carrying radioactive waste to the mill. Badback wonders how much exposure those neighbors suffer. She has other concerns, as well. “We’re just downstream from the mill,” she said. “If there were a leak in the Z[[Hۙ H۸&][]][š[\[]\'HH[ܜY\˜X]X۝[Z[][ۈ[HY\][][]HY[X\[[X][X]HZ\[\K[H[ BܘYY\^H\H8'X[\KYx&\HX8'H[[HZ\ۈXܛš[YوXܙ\وZ[[ۙ˂[H\\\]Y[]B[[Z[]HX[]]ܚ]Y\[B]Z\\Y[وX[ YHX[Y[X\ۙ\]HY\Z\^\H^HX[ˈ\\قH\ܛ\]\[[ۚ]ܚ[ۜܝ][KH]ZXXX[Xܘ]ܞH\Y[YZ[\Y[&B^\H[[ۈX[܈X]BXYK[]XۙXHو[[™HHT[\܈\X\H۝[][[ۈ KHۜܝ][B\YX\\[X]HY][\XYB[ZX[\[X[[[ܘ[\X[[]HY]X]\[[X[X[Y[HXܛHY[ۋZYXܘ]ܞH\X܈؞[][ۋB[ 8'x&]HY[Z[™]\Z[H\HY]H]BH[\[][]Y\]X^XBXXX[XTT ܙ