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GPS tracking livestock to inform potential human exposure to abandoned uranium mine waste in an Indigenous community in the southwestern United States

Authors: Joseph Hoover*, Montana State University, Billings, Yan Lin, University of New Mexico, Daniel Beene, University of New Mexico, Zhuoming Liu, University of New Mexico
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: Abandoned mines, community-engaged research, Environmental health, GIScience, GPS
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


There 160,000 abandoned hardrock mines in the western United States and more than 600,000 members of Indigenous communities that live within 10 km of at least one of these sites. The Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico and Utah) is confronting a legacy of 523 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) within Nation boundaries; the presence of AUMs has been associated with deleterious human health impacts, environmental deterioration, and exposure disparities. While previous studies focused on air and water as pathways for AUM exposure, there remains a critical need for additional investigation of animal meat and organs consumption as a pathway for human exposure. A partnership among a Navajo community, Dine’ College, Northern Arizona University, University of New Mexico, and Montana State University – Billings is using a transdisciplinary approach to investigate AUM exposure of domesticated livestock and uptake of metals in animal tissues. The study design relies on global positioning system (GPS) and GIS technologies to track livestock grazing patterns, inform environmental sampling, and aid interpretation of analytical chemistry results. Geospatial, environmental, and biological data will be integrated to inform understanding of potential human exposure to metals founds in AUM waste via consumption of livestock organs and meat. Emphasizing the central role of geographic thought and analysis, we illustrate a transdisciplinary team-science approach using global positioning system (GPS) animal tracking, GIS-modeling, and quantification and propagation of uncertainty in modeling. The findings of this study will answer community questions about livestock exposure to AUM waste and inform ongoing clean up of these sites.

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