Suicides on Navajo reservation soaring thanks to EPA inaction on toxic spill
The Navajo indian leadership is blaming the Environmental Protection Agency for an uptick in suicides, a result of the slow pace of the cleanup of the Animus River following a toxic spill at a gold mine in Colorado.
“People so value the water, the river, Navajo people do. I think the stress knowing that it’s polluted and frankly there are still some unknowns," said the director of the Navajo public health agency.
Begaye told The Daily Beast he was concerned that the destruction caused by the Colorado’s Gold King Mine spill last August may be contributing to the suicide uptick and that the drawn-out clean-up efforts exacerbate the struggles that members of his community already face.
He added that the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the disaster—which he characterized as inefficient and counter-productive—added additional stress to a community already on edge.
“One of the things that they seemingly do is that they wait you out,” he told The Daily Beast. “I mean, they—they’ll say all the nice things, all the right things. They’ll put the proposals on the table but you know that there’s no real action, there’s no real meat behind what they say.”
The disaster happened on August 5 of this year when EPA personnel and contractors—ironically enough—were trying to clean out an abandoned mine. They accidentally broke a dam, spilling millions of gallons of wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River. The spill turned the river a mustard yellow color and caused widespread contamination.
This isn’t the first time Begaye has raised the possibility that the river damage has lead the Navajo to take their lives.
In testimony at a joint hearing before two House committees earlier this year, he said the spill had compounded his people’s “already significant historical trauma.”
You can bet if the spill was caused by a private company, the agency would be riding them mercilessly to compensate the farmers affected. But the tactics being employed by the EPA guarantee that some of those affected by the spill will have to wait many more months - perhaps years - before they see a penny of compensation.
As for whether the spill has led directly to more suicides, I don't think you can prove that. But you can certainly make the case that it is a contributing factor, given the reverence native Americans hold for the natural world. The despicable actions of the EPA in this mess should be punished. But since no one has been fired or even disciplined for the spill itself, it isn't likely that any heads will roll over this.