11/10/2011 Navajo Times: Funds available for Freeze families, panel says By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times. WINDOW ROCK: The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission reports that it has nearly $4 million available to start helping Navajo families in the former Bennett Freeze area. “This is the latest funding for the recovery of the area,” the NHLC office stated in a recent report to the Navajo Nation Council. The money is from an escrow account. For 30 years, 1966 to 1996, Navajo families in the Bennett Freeze area were prohibited from making improvements to their homes because of federal restrictions put in place at the behest of the Hopi Tribe, which claimed prior rights to the land.
Meanwhile, land-use payments were held in escrow. In 2010, following a federal settlement lifting the Freeze, some $6.3 million was released to the Navajo Nation to benefit Navajos still residing there.
The land commission hasn’t yet approved the allocation of these funds, prompting the emergence of The Forgotten People, a grassroots group formed to demand an accounting of money spent and to push for needed improvements to the area.
The report to the Council said some $3.9 million of that $6 million has now been allocated to improve or replace dilapidated homes.
The commission also reported that lease fees from the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, which is building the Twin Arrows Resort Casino on land acquired under the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute agreement, are beginning to roll in.
Commission officials said the land had been purchased for about $7 million with the commission and the casino paying half of the cost. The land was then taken into ownership by the commission and the casino agreed to make annual payments to the commission for use of the land.
The first payment of $375,000 was made in June, said Raymond Maxx, director of the NHLC office.
10/25/2011 Indian Country Today: Arsenic in Indian Water Tables Can Cause Diabetes, Other Illnesses By Terri Hansen: Arsenic, even for a poison, is one nasty brew. Long-term ingestion of the metallic substance can result in thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies inorganic arsenic as a Group A agent, a human carcinogen and, since the 1990s, exposure to it has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes mellitus.
New findings by a group of scientists add support for the theory that there is a link between arsenic and diabetes. Two coauthors of those studies are on an expert panel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program investigating the link between environmental chemicals and diabetes and obesity. “Our panel of experts, who met last January, concluded there is sufficient evidence to link high arsenic exposure in drinking water to diabetes,” says the study’s principal investigator, Miroslav Stýblo, a biochemist and an associate professor in the department of nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “With low levels, there is significant uncertainty. Our data also suggests that if you have a certain genetic makeup you are at higher risk.” Stýblo says typical exposure rates in the U.S. are lower than those in most studies that found an association with diabetes.
Arsenic occurs naturally in bedrock and soil, and is released through natural activities like volcanic action. Ninety percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is used as a wood preservative. Mining, smelting and agriculture also contribute to arsenic releases. To protect consumers of public water systems from the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic the EPA lowered the arsenic standard for drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb in 2001.
Stýblo and eight other scientists studied populations in the Zimapán and Lagunera regions in Mexico to determine whether exposure to arsenic in drinking water is correlated with an increased prevalence of diabetes. Their research was published in the August issue of the journal Environmental Health, and is “very relevant” for the Native American population, says study coauthor Dana Loomis, Associate Director, Cancer Prevention & Control at the Eppley Cancer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha. “Most American Indians are living in the western U.S. It’s in that part of the country that elevated areas of arsenic exposures are found. It’s incorporated into the bedrock geology. Because of the way desert water systems work, the concentrations can be enhanced, especially in arid parts of the West.”
Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California in particular are worrisome areas for arsenic contamination. Another report adds Washington and Alaska to the list.
The Navajo Nation has more than 250,000 federally recognized members living on its sprawling 27,000-square-mile reservation on parts of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Water supplies that do not meet U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act standards, particularly in the rural and remote areas of the reservation are of heightened concern. “There are some high contents of arsenic known on the Navajo Nation,” says George Breit, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, and one of the world’s leading experts on arsenic contamination in groundwater. He cites a study of the area of Hopi Buttes (Tsezhin Bii) that reported several rock samples with more than 100 parts per million.
Breit says all earth materials contain some arsenic; whether it can be transferred to water depends on the reactivity of its binding phase when placed in a different environment. “There are four general environments in which arsenic is present in sufficient concentrations in groundwater to be of concern,” he says. “The Navajo Nation has environments in which all four of these mechanisms may exist.”
The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is the only provider of drinking water for the reservation that meets the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although the utility is extending its system, unregulated water is still the only water source for one quarter of the homes on the reservation. When the Diné Environmental Institute of the Diné College and the University of Nevada, Reno tested unregulated water supplies in 2008, they found that levels of arsenic and other contaminants including uranium exceeded the EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels. For the past four summers the Diné Environmental Institute has tested water supplies in the eastern region of the Navajo Nation. “We typically test water in the livestock wells because a lot of people are still not hooked up to water supplies,” says Diné College science department faculty chair Barbara Klein. “Even though the wells might not be potable, [people] end up drinking from [them].”
The teachers and students choose an area and test livestock wells, artesian wells and springs. “We typically test for bacteria,” Klein says. “Samples are sent for testing for heavy metals. We pay most attention to arsenic and uranium.” She says they’ve found dangerously high levels of uranium in areas where there are a lot of reclaimed and unreclaimed uranium mines.
When the EPA, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NTUA and Navajo representatives formed the Navajo Access Workgroup to undertake a 2010 project to map the water infrastructure, their results indicated a funding need for a “Shiprock to Sweetwater” project that would address the problem of high arsenic levels in the source water of 1,001 homes.
Water safety is the focus of Forgotten People, a community development corporation on the Navajo Nation. Program director Marsha Monestersky says their advocacy resulted in the Navajo Nation issuing a Declaration of Public Health State of Emergency in the Black Falls/Box Springs (Arizona) region in the southern portion of the western agency of the Navajo Nation in January of 2010. “We have the EPA test results and the data that show all the water sources in [that region] exceed EPA standards for arsenic and uranium,” she says. Their organization received an Environmental Excellence award from the Navajo Nation EPA in 2009, and a $20,000 environmental justice grant from the U.S. EPA that same year. “Our job is really hard because a lot of people we’re working with have cancer, and there’s a lot of diabetes,” Monestersky says. “Every time they build a dialysis center it can’t accommodate all the patients [because] the need is so great.”
Arsenic is a concern elsewhere. The Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona objected to the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Program two years ago in part because the subsequent new mining would expose the tribal community to “abundant deposits of…poisonous arsenic.”
Arsenic got top billing on the Tohono O’odham Nation’s (TON) list of environmental health threats in their Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Plan: 2010-2015 sponsored by the CDC. “All Americans,” said TON’s Environment and Cancer Committee in the report, “including the O’odham are entitled to clean water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Whether arsenic is linked to illness or cancer is not as critical as the fact that low-level chronic exposure to the human body is not a healthy thing.”
At the time of the report arsenic concentrations in their water ranged from trace amounts to 1,000 ppb. At least 23 of their communities have water with elevated levels of arsenic, and 17 of their 35 public water systems have arsenic levels from 10 ppb up to 32 ppb, above the EPA standard for arsenic but considered low compared to other areas in Arizona. Their report also cites an earlier study linking arsenic exposure through drinking water with a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes.
TON’s pilot arsenic treatment using iron-oxide adsorption reduced arsenic at a public water system from 33 ppb to less than 1 ppb. TON’s report recommends the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the CDC use their public health authority to ensure funding. They claim that since their report was issued they’ve resolved much of the problem.
In Alaska, some of their high arsenic levels occur naturally, and some are produced by military and mining operations, says Pamela Miller, executive director for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “At Kivalina’s Red Dog Mine, there is concern that emissions from the mining operations are transmitted atmospherically,” Miller says. “Fish have elevated levels of arsenic in their muscle and liver. A study found that levels found in fish were higher in Alaska than in California. We’re concerned about the levels of arsenic in groundwater, but we also recognize arsenic can be transported in the air, and deposited in waters and taken in by sea creatures important to tribal subsistence.”
Regardless of the arsenic link to diabetes, Stýblo says that the number-one reason for the diabetes epidemic is U.S. is obesity. “I think it’s fair to say exposures in the U.S. are lower than most studies found to be associated with diabetes. If arsenic contributes, it’s relatively minor. It is possible that arsenic may work with obesogens, but obesity remains the number-one explanation.” Obesogens are environmental contaminants that promote obesity. Diabetogens promote diabetes. Arsenic does not seem to promote obesity, but acts as a direct diabetogen, Stýblo says. Other organic and inorganic compounds are also thought to cause diabetes. “Most of them seem to promote obesity first; diabetes is a secondary effect, i.e. resulting from obesity.”
Although the arsenic levels are low for many people in the U.S., Stýblo says it is still a significant issue, “because we have tens of millions people worldwide who are exposed to high arsenic levels, so it’s still affecting a very large number of people. Arsenic is known as a carcinogen; it’s only recently that people like us became interested in its toxicology.”
Loomis agrees, “Even a minor cause is important when large numbers of people are exposed to it.”
9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Mold is suspect in building closure By Noel Lyn Smith: Potentially harmful mold inside the tribe’s Administration Building No. 1 has sent approximately 200 tribal employees packing. The building, which houses the Division of Finance, was ordered closed “indefinitely” on Sept. 9 by the Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces federal and tribal workplace safety laws.
Last Friday about 30 employees stood outside Admin No. 1 with empty boxes, waiting for Incident Management Team members to retrieve documents from the building.
Each department was asked to provide a priority list of essential documents needing retrieval.
A female employee who declined to identify herself said she smelled a “glue like” substance days before the closure. Other employees declined to comment and referred questions to the Incident Management Team.
Before entering the building, retrieval team members dressed in white protective suits and sterile gloves.
A clean room was set up inside and the requested items were brought into that room for decontamination before being removed from the building.
Incident Management Team members returned to the site Monday to continue the remediation process.
NOSHA Director Patrick Sandoval said the investigation and subsequent closure of the building was prompted by complaints from employees.
“It’s the employee’s right to have a safe working environment but it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide that environment,” Sandoval said.
This is the second time the building was closed due to mold in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, where mold spores can be sprayed into the air and inhaled by occupants. The first closure was Sept. 1-5.
As crucial documents were being retrieved last week, Dave Nez with the tribe’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office explained that an independent Arizona state-certified microbiologist collected samples to analyze and the results will be released to the Incident Management Team.
Nez said the building had water stains on interior walls and some inside paneling showed signs of bacteria or fungus growth. The mold, which can cause severe respiratory problems, thrives in dark, damp conditions.
Based on assessment reports, a large contributor to the problem is the declining condition of the roof and seepage of moisture into the building, according to an Incident Management Team press release.
The exact age of the building is unknown by most officials estimate it is about 30 years old. It has a history of problems, including a waterline break in 2007 that caused significant water damage.
Executive Office Communications Director Laphillda Tso said Tuesday that the test results had not been released. After they are received the Incident Management Team will determine how to remediate the building, she said, adding that an update on the situation was expected Wednesday.
Mold colonies can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours and reproduce by releasing tiny spores that float through the air until landing in other locations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mold will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture and kill the existing colony.
Only certain molds are toxigenic, which means they can produce toxins but are not toxic by themselves.
It is the mold’s ability to destroy organic material that makes it a health problem for people.
Typical symptoms reported from mold exposure include respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion or coughing, irritation to the eyes, nose, throat or skin, headaches and body pains.
Individual with existing respiratory conditions, infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at higher risks for adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
There is no way to eliminate mold but it can be kept to a minimum by preventing moisture from collecting inside. Water seepage, whether from an old roof, leaking pipe, or poor drainage, should never be ignored. Fix leaks immediately and dry out the area that got wet.
No routine inspections
“The Navajo Nation is obligated and liable for upkeep and maintenance services to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for its employees,” according to information posted on the Division of General Services Web site.
However, the tribe does not conduct routine inspections on tribal buildings, said Facilities Management Department Manager Marcus Tulley. Tulley’s department provides repairs and maintenance services to 625 tribal-owned facilities across the Navajo Nation.
Tulley said his department does maintenance service on buildings but only when an employee reports a problem or if an order is issued by NOSHA, the Office of Environmental Health, or the Safety and Loss Control Program.
Information about the closure of Administration Building No. 1 is posted at the building’s entrances in addition to copies of the order of closure.
The programs housed there have been relocated as follows:
* Most of the controller’s office is now operating out of the Dine Education Center auditorium.
* The Credit Services Department is located at the Ethics and Rules conference room.
* Both the Cashier’s Department and some Accounts Payable staff have relocated to Property Management Department in Fort Defiance.
* Most of the Office of Management and Budget is housed in the Department of Information Technology, but OMB’s Contracts and Grants section is located at the Department of Behavioral Health Services conference room in Administration Building No. 2.
* Administration staff for the Division of General Services is in the Department of Information Technology.
* The Insurances Services Department, and Employee Benefits and Workers Compensation programs are located at the Safety Loss Control Program office inside the Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* Risk Management is located at the Navajo Nation Museum.
* The Design and Engineering Services Program is located at the Division of Community Development conference room in Administration Building No. 2 but the project management staff is located at the Rural Addressing Office at Navajo Nation Shopping Center.
* The Department of Personnel Management is located at the Training Center.
Most departments have retained the same telephone number and people may call them, or the president’s office, for location information, Tso said. The president’s office also instructed KTNN to announce the relocations.
“We asked them to send out information daily because it’s public information and to relieve the stress on the public that comes out to these departments,” she said.
The building may be closed, but shuttering the Division of Finance was never an option, said Herman Shorty, director of the Office of Environmental Health.
“That’s the heartbeat of the Navajo Nation,” he said. “Everything that is key to the Navajo Nation is associated with that building, so you can’t close down operations.”
Rehab fund spending report released: Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent.
New special prosecutor to replace Balaran: Announcement expected within 10 days.
Rehab fund spending report released Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent. 9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Rehab fund spending report release By Noel Lyn Smith: WINDOW ROCK: The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice has finally produced a draft summary of the accounting record for the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. Nine months after being ordered to do so, DOJ submitted the document during a Sept. 21 hearing for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals who are suing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to learn how money has been spent from the fund, which was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land.
As their name suggests, the Forgotten People contend that the assistance their region was promised in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute settlement has failed to materialize, and they suspect the money may have been misspent.
Henry Howe, a DOJ attorney representing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, submitted an eight-page report that shows trust fund expenditures from 1990 to 2009 that went toward projects on the former Bennett Freeze area, New Lands, Navajo Partitioned Land and Hopi Partitioned Land.
The report also shows amounts Congress appropriated for land purchases and federal appropriation amounts from 1990 to 1995.
“This information provided to plaintiffs demonstrates good faith on behalf of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office,” Howe said, speaking before a courtroom packed with spectators.
When plaintiffs filed their civil complaint in 2010, they asked for a full account of all income, expenses, profits, losses, assets and other financial matters for which the tribe, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office have responsibility.
Window Rock District Court Judge T.J. Holgate asked Howe why it took months to produce the report after the court issued an order in January.
Howe explained that it took time to locate accounting documents and it was especially difficult for the office to locate the first five years of records.
Sitting with Howe were Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Chair Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tsé si’án’/Wide Ruins) and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx and Deputy Director Thomas Benally.
James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, asked Holgate for time to examine the record since it was handed to him shortly before the hearing started.
Holgate granted Zion 30 days to review the document and to submit any written responses or questions.
The judge also ordered both parties to continue discussing the issue before the next hearing date in January.
In an impromptu meeting at Veterans Memorial Park after the hearing, Zion told the group that this was just a start.
“Today we had a victory for the Forgotten People,” Zion said to the group of about 30 people.
This document is a start in addressing the issue of when the money was received, how much was received and how it was spent, he said.
Forgotten People member Grace Smith Yellowhammer said it took a long time to obtain this financial record but the group will continue fighting until the issue is completely resolved.
“I want to see these elders win,” she said.