FARMINGTON, N.M.—About 20 students are ready to graduate from a program that trains people to clean up Navajo Nation land that was poisoned by the mining and milling of uranium ore.

The Farmington Daily Times reports ( that more than 100 applicants tried to get into the class, but only about 20 were picked for the three-week training.

Radioactive material began contaminating the Navajo Nation's land and water during the 1940s when uranium was in high demand by the federal government.

Federal and tribal regulators have teamed up since 2007 to clean up sites scattered across 27,000 square miles of Navajo Nation land. Their priorities are uranium-contaminated water sources and structures.

Federal regulators say about 30 percent of the Navajo population doesn't have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination.

Though the recruitment of Navajo into the cleanup force is new, the effort has been in the works for decades and is expected to continue for years.

Federal and tribal regulators have so far have assessed 683 structures, and targeted at least 34 structures and 12 residential yards for remediation as a precaution. They also rebuilt 14 homes.

Some of the students will help clean up the sites and homes, while others may choose to work at other sites around the nation.

The students learned how to measure and detect radon, one of the toxic products of uranium. They also are trained in a 40-hour hazardous waste and emergency response course, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and basic job skills.

"A lot of this work is a new type of life for a lot of these folks," said Viola Cooper, national project manager for the Superfund Job Training Initiative, a national program that visits contaminated communities and gives people the skills to find careers in cleaning up hazardous waste.


Information from: The Daily Times,