Environmental Issues of the Southwest

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View National Sacrifice Areas in a larger map

2. Environmental issues in the Southwest

The American Southwest has been the center of various controversies over land and water since Europeans first arrived, but these issues became more important as Euro-Americans moved into these areas in increasing numbers in the late 19th and Early 20th Centuries. One of the first major Environmental Justice issues involved mining; many Indigenous peoples resisted against mining operations because of the damage that mining did to the Earth, whom they considered to be sacred. This escalated once the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada were created, resulting in extensive wars, especially with the Apache.

During and after the Second World War a new issue, arose: nuclear weapons. The testing and mining for uranium used in nuclear technology became a major issue in the Southwest. The first nuclear tests were conducted in southern New Mexico and many subsequent above ground nuclear tests were carried out in Nevada, where prevailing winds blew radioactive dust over Utah, Eastern Arizona and New Mexico. 

The combination of uranium mining, coal mining, and development of the US nuclear program led to great increases in the rates of cancer and respiratory diseases among Indigenous peoples. This occurred mostly in Indigenous men, who worked as miners and uranium processors, but also in their families, because the men came home with radioactive dust on their clothing and exposed their wives, children and elders.

For today's exercise, add the following environmental problems which occur in the Southwest to your map:

  • Nuclear test sites
  • Coal mines
  • Uranium mines
  • Copper mines
  • Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility
  • Air pollution point sources
  • Air pollution non-point sources
  • Water pollution point sources
  • Water pollution non-point sources

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Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Oct 13, 2012, 4:03 PM