Red Dust – Contamination in Northern New Mexico

A Soil Scientist’s Journey Through the Political Climate and Environmental Chemistry of Northern New Mexico

by Morgan Drewniany

Northern New MexicoExperiments were performed to investigate the presence of health-threatening contamination in the soils of a food producing community garden in the Pueblos of Espanola, NM, downhill and downwind from Los Alamos National Labs (LANL). Soil samples were collected during an internship with the Indigenous women’s group Tewa Women United in the Rio Arriba Valley of New Mexico. Over 100 samples were tested for arsenic, perchlorate, RDX, and hexavalent chromium using quantitative or semi-quantitative colorimetric methods. All four contaminants were found to be elevated, with levels above or closely approaching established health-protecting quality limits. It is clear that with levels this high, the health of those exposed is threatened as are the surrounding waterways. These findings indicate that LANL has polluted the lands inhabited by Indigenous communities. The nature and high levels of contaminants has also created an area in which health disparities are disproportionately high. Suggestions for bioremediation and behavioral change to protect public health and environmental justice while still utilizing the garden are recommended in the paper.

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