/ Modified dec 7, 2016 5:27 a.m.

Navajo Farmers Open Legal Battle Over Mine Waste Spill

The spill contaminated three rivers and the tribe's irrigation source.

Navajo spill mine toxic waste On Aug. 5 the EPA was investigating contamination of this old Colorado mine when it unexpectedly triggered a release of 3 million gallons of toxic waste. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency)

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The Navajo Nation is suing the federal government over a mine waste spill that contaminated three rivers including the tribe’s irrigation source. An EPA cleanup crew triggered the 3 million gallon blowout of yellow sludge at a Colorado mine in August 2015.

The Navajo Nation has submitted a claim of more than $160 million in damages for 10 years of health monitoring and other assessments. But the hundreds of farmers in Shiprock impacted by the spill can’t wait on a legal battle.

The river water still shows traces of toxic heavy metals. Shiprock Chapter President Chili Yazzie said only a small fraction of the community farmed this year.

“Those families who depended on agriculture as a means of subsistence to them a lawsuit, as well intended that it is, doesn’t translate to anything here,” Yazzie said.

Yazzie said he’s hopeful the tribe will win the case but dubious his community will see any of the money. He said when the tribe has received other settlements or federal funds in the past, the members don’t see where it’s spent.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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