In 1948, The United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) announced it would be the sole purchaser of any uranium mined in the United States. The AEC would not mine the uranium; it contracted with private mining companies for the product. The Navajo Nation encompasses portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, making their reservation a key area for uranium mining; it had more than 1000 mines in the reservation. As work was scarce on and near the reservation, many Navajo men would travel miles to work in a mine, sometimes taking their family with them.
Private industry’s treatment of the Navajo workers was poor, according to recent standards: companies failed to educate workers on precautionary measures, did not install sufficient engineering controls, such as adequate ventilation; and did not provide sufficient safety equipment to protect workers to the known dangers related to the mines. The Navajo were never told of the radiation effects, and did not have a word for it in their language. Many Navajo did not speak English and trusted the uranium companies to have their interests in mind. Navajo workers and residents have felt betrayed as the results of the studies became known, as well as the long delays by companies and the US government to try to prevent the damage, and to pay compensation.