Albuquerque, N.M. — Enormous ochre stone slab walls shout loudly as I drive through Church Rock, N.M., to Red Water Pond (near Gallup on the Navajo, or Diné, nation). I drive this road each year around July 16 to attend the commemoration of the Church Rock Radioactive spill. But today, the air is different.
Luke 19:39-40 moves on the wings of the desert wind: "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, order your disciples to stop.' He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.' "
Stones shout loudly today in many places. I drive to the Navajo community of Red Water Pond. I listen intently. Families in this rural region suffer from high rates of cancer and other ailments due to exposure from uranium mining and milling and the second-largest radioactive contamination accident in U.S. history. Most people remember the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster, but few have heard of the uranium tailings pond break that sent contaminated waters from near Gallup, N.M., to as far as Winslow, Ariz., 35 years ago -- that same year. Even today, the contamination rests under foot and threatens distant waterways and lands.