By Lee Camp
The last time I was at our local library I noticed the book Yellow Dirt, An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed by Judy Pastenak (HERE) in the recently published display. I was looking for books on gardening and herbs so I was going to pass it by but I figured I would not find it again so I checked it out. It sat unread in my house for a couple of weeks but once I started it I finished it in a weekend. (Autism has freed us from large Thanksgiving weekend gatherings with family and friends.)
Yellow Dirt is the story of how corporations extracted uranium for the US Government and for decades exposed the Navajo Indians to uranium, heavy metals in the ore and compounds used to extract the uranium. According to the book, virtually no safety procedures were employed to protect the workers at the mine or the larger environmental area. When mining was complete the mines were shutdown with essentially no clean up. This resulted in contaminated soil and water.
The participation of a long list of state and federal agencies is described in Yellow Dirt. The Public Health Service studied the Navajo miners as they got sick and started dying but did nothing and said nothing even to the sick miners. The Environmental Protection Agency spent decades not cleaning up contaminated areas including homes. And the CDC is almost never present despite skyrocketing rates of cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. Does this feel familiar to you?
The topic in the book that seemed the most similar to the autism experience was “Navajo Neuropathy”. There were Navajo children that were very sick. The experts decided that the disorder was genetic in origin. The disorder caused injury to the children’s’ hands, feet, eyes and livers. Most did not live to adulthood. One attorney who saw the affected Navajo children compared them to Japanese children near Minimata bay. Even after some of the Navajo families received compensation, admittedly small, from a mining company settling a suit due to the exposure of the children’s mothers to water contaminated by uranium mining during their pregnancies, the research for a genetic cause continued. Some of the genetic researchers theorized that reduced mitochondrial levels might be involved. A few researchers allowed for an environmental trigger. But the genetic focus continued even as occurrences apparently decreased as use of contaminated water decreased
Before publishing this book, Ms Pasternak wrote a series of articles about this subject that had been published in the L.A. Times. A congressman from California led hearings in Washington and brought about at least a partial clean up of the Navajo sites. I hope that one day a congressman or senator will be “incensed” about the causes of the Age of Autism and “…pursue this issue until we get it right”.
Lee Camp is the parent of a 19 year old son with a long list of diagnosis codes from a DAN doctor but that simply put has ASD. Autism has affected the lives of each member of his immediate family. He continues to look for solutions to the puzzle and stands behind the Warrior Moms and Dads that fight for our kids.