Researchers from the University of Arizona in the US have received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to evaluate exposure and risk perceptions following the Gold King Mine spill disaster that took place in August 2015.

Using the $434,000 grant, the researchers Karletta Chief and Paloma Beamer will work with the Navajo Nation. They are also leading a team to address tribal questions regarding the impact of the environmental disaster on their communities.

An estimated three million gallons of acid water and heavy metals have spilled from the Gold King Mine near Silverton into Colorado’s Animas River.

“To the Navajo people, water is sacred. The land they live on is their identity and their livelihood.”

Eventually, they flowed into the San Juan River, which is serving as the primary source of irrigation for Navajo Nation farmers. When the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was trying to prevent leakage of toxic materials, wastewater was released accidentally.

Karletta Chief said: "To the Navajo people, water is sacred. The land they live on is their identity and their livelihood.

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"The impact of this spill cut deep to the core of these spiritual and traditional values. At the same time, there is little data that provides answers to Navajo concerns regarding the potential exposures they face as result of this contamination."

Recently, the EPA released its final monitoring plan for the Animas and San Juan rivers following the incident.

The agency has proposed a conceptual monitoring plan which has been designed to collect scientific data to evaluate river conditions over time and analyse impacts to public health and the environment.

Under the plan, EPA is examining water quality, sediment quality, biological community and fish tissue at 30 locations under various flow and seasonal river conditions.

The EPA said it will also work with local jurisdictions and tribes to sample the rivers at the time of heavy rain events.

Image: Core samples were taken from a cornfield as a result of the Gold King Mine spill. Photo: courtesy of Paloma Beamer.