SHIPROCK — Officials presented an update on the progress of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study on Wednesday at the Northern Navajo Medical Center.
The five-year study is a collaborative effort to provide the first Navajo Nation-wide documentation of the possible associations between uranium and other heavy metal exposures and birth outcomes and child development.
The study is being completed through a cooperative agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the University of New Mexico's Community Environmental Health Program, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and the Navajo Nation Division of Health.
In addition to uranium, the study is also testing for 36 different metals or metal compounds, including arsenic, lead and mercury. These contaminants may contribute to an increased risk of poor health, including cardiovascular and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, a poor immune system and DNA damage.
Jennifer Ong, a doctoral candidate at UNM's Community Environmental Health Program, presented preliminary results of metal levels found in participants. Detectable levels of uranium, arsenic and lead were found in babies at birth. Ong said exposure to these elements could have occurred through the use of stoves, the burning of trash or by living near power plants or other industrial developments.
Enrollment for the study began in February, and the study's goal is to enroll 1,500 women and their babies. As of June, 460 women have been screened for eligibility, and 275 pregnant women, 82 fathers and 94 babies have enrolled in the study.
There are 28 mothers, 13 fathers and 19 babies from Shiprock enrolled in the study.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Chris Shuey, co-investigator for the study and director of the Southwest Research and Information Center, explained the purpose of the study, along with the history of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.
The first uranium mines were established in 1942 in the Monument Valley community, and the last mine closed in 1986 in Sanostee.
In 2005, members of the Navajo Nation Council enacted a ban on uranium mining and processing within the boundaries of the reservation.
Lynda Lasiloo is a Navajo community liaison with the Southwest Research and Information Center and visits participants in the northern region of the reservation. As part of Lasiloo's responsibilities, she completes home environmental assessments by identifying and quantifying exposures to contaminants in and around the home.
There have been difficulties in recruiting participants because some are reluctant to enroll because testing is done by taking urine and blood samples, Lasiloo said. Some participants, she added, do not understand how uranium can affect their health, so additional education is necessary.
Another challenge is younger couples are most likely to shift between residences.
Although there have been challenges, the study is still enrolling pregnant women who are receiving health care services from any Indian Health Services facility, are between the ages of 14 to 45 and have lived on the Navajo Nation for at least five years.
The woman's pregnancy must be clinically confirmed, and they must be willing to allow their baby to be followed up on for the first year.
The group will provide another update at 9 a.m. on Friday at the Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter house in Tuba City, Ariz.
For more information, contact the Southwest Research and Information Center at 1-877-545-6775.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.