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The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from Coronavirus. - Aaron Bernstein Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and Global Environment at Harvard University
I propose in this article that Particulate Matter Pollution that kills 4.2 million people worldwide and 200,000 Americans every year, with half of these deaths come from air pollution from another state, is why the Navajo nation leads the United States in Coronavirus infections. It seems so obvious, yet the only article I found that substantially addresses this as being the reason for the Navajo nation high infection rate is Kendra Chamerlain's piece for the New Mexico Political Report entitled, "For Greater Chaco communities, air pollution compounds COVID-19 threat." Referring to around 400 unregulated gas and oil wells operating in the Great Chaco region of the Navajo nation, a 2019 study found very high levels of PM.
One has to look further, however, to understand the extent of the damage being done by the abandoned U.S. uranium mines. In an article for Duke University's Duke Green Classroom by Jessica Marlow entitled "Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: An Environmental Justice Impact Analysis," she describes the air pollution of 521 uranium mines abandoned without proper seals and left open to contaminate the air inhaled by majority of Navajo nation citizens. Referring to a study by Southwest Research Information Center, 275 of 599 Navajos had elevated levels of uranium in their urine compared to only 5% of the general US population. The virus is "hitching a ride" on PM particles and finding those with high concentrations in their bodies to continue the voyage.
One study found uranium in the dust in 85 percent of sampled homes in the Navajo nation. All individuals tested and everyone tested, even the babies, has uranium in their bodies, with concentrations far above the U.S. average. 700 mothers and 200 babies show that the overall distribution of uranium concentrations in urine is extremely high, with Navajo exceeding the uranium in other Americans by 95%. Not surprisingly, EPA administrator Scott Pruit proposed a 30 percent reduction in grants to fund tribes environmental protection, a 20 percent cut in EPA staffing and a 30 percent duct to the Superfund program that identifies polluters, including the Navajo mines.
Understanding why the virus named COVID-19 has put the Navajo Nation into the unfortunate position of the place suffering the most in the United States might well be a teaching for us all. I propose that this virus is a being that is warning us to stop our genocidal and culturcidal treatment of Indigenous People whose traditional wisdom may be necessary for preventing human extinction, as the large 2019 United Nations biodiversity report has implied. It is also warning us that if we do not stop the growing air pollution in the world, which includes the ending of further deforestation, we are doomed. Scientific research continues to show that there is a strong link between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths.
For example, a study published in Science of the Total Environment found that chronic exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a common ingredient in air pollution, is an important contributor to high COVID-19 fatality rates. Harvard University's School of Public Health and its Department of Biostatistics also connects air pollution to higher Coronavirus death rates. And keep in mind that Wuhan pneumonia was a public health crises before the outbreak of COVID-19 that originated there. It has concentrations of air pollution 40 times worse than New York City.
Most of us are exposed to Partical Matter Pollution as a result of long-term exposure to pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles. COVID-19 is choosing places and individuals with the highest levels to teach us the lesson about what to focus on now. Many people on the Navajo nation do not know why so many of their people are suffering from the virus, including some of my own Navajo students. However, some of the traditional wisdom keepers do realize it is related to how badly Nature and its beings, including the air and water, are being mistreated. In an online National Geographic article entitled "Traditional Indigenous beliefs are a powerful tool for understanding the pandemic," Rachel Hartigan Shea quotes Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota and host of First Voices Radio, saying "We're taught not to think of nature as separate that includes COVID-19. "The coronavirus is a being," he says. "And we have to respect that being in an 'awe state' and a 'wonder state' because it has come to us as a medicine" to treat spiritual ills.
It is past time for all of us to realize the beauty of Nature "all around" while at the same time understanding and then working to end the repercussions of our disrespect for this beauty. I close by recommending the reader listen to an interview of Dr. Zach Bush, an expert on infection disease and endocrinology. In it he offers profoundly important information about COVID-19, air pollution and the important of a fearless understanding of life and death and of seeing the beauty of nature. His words are epiphany worthy.
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