Where community meets cutting-edge research

Research Interests

The UNM Metals Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest (UNM METALS) Superfund Research Program Center, the first of its kind in the nation, is dedicated to studying the toxic effects of mixed metals and uranium exposure on tribal communities in the Southwest.

Years of mining waste on tribal lands has left Native Americans with numerous health problems. The health effects have been profound, and the center is conducting further research to determine the best methods for remediation of mine waste sites and risk reduction strategies within communities to help curb further exposure to the contaminants. The West is home to more than 4,000 uranium mines and some 160,000 abandoned hard rock mines. About 600,000 Native Americans live within 10 kilometers of the sites.

The center is funded through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS grant #NIEHS 1 P42 ES025589).

Working with communities

Recognizing that complete remediation of these sites remains decades away, UNM METALS uses multi-directional Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores to develop and implement transgenerational approaches to risk communication and risk avoidance that integrate indigenous learning models (e.g., tribal ecological knowledge) and Western science.

The UNM METALS Center has developed partnerships with 3 Native American communities that live near waste sites:

  • Laguna Pueblo is adjacent to the 8,000-acre open pit Jackpile Mine, which is listed on the Superfund National Priorities List.
  • Two Navajo communities live near mines that are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Congressionally mandated “Five-Year Plan to Address Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation.”

They are:

  • Red Water Pond Road adjacent to the North East Church Rock Mine
  • Tachee-Blue Gap community next to the Claim 28 waste site.

Research Briefs


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Lin, Y., Hoover, J., Beene, D., Erdei, E. and Liu, Z., 2020. Environmental risk mapping of potential abandoned uranium mine contamination on the Navajo Nation, USA, using a GIS-based multi-criteria decision analysis approach. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-09257-3

Avasarala, S., J Brearley, A., Spilde, M., Peterson, E., Jiang, Y.B., Benavidez, A. and Cerrato, J.M., 2020. Crystal Chemistry of Carnotite in Abandoned Mine Wastes. Minerals, 10(10), p.883. https://doi.org/10.3390/min10100883

Gonzalez-Estrella, J., Meza, I., Burns, A.J., Ali, A.M.S., Lezama-Pacheco, J.S., Lichtner, P., Shaikh, N., Fendorf, S. and Cerrato, J.M., 2020. Effect of Bicarbonate, Calcium, and pH on the Reactivity of As (V) and U (VI) Mixtures. Environmental science & technology54(7), pp.3979-3987. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b06063

Dashner-Titus, E.J., Schilz, J.R., Simmons, K.A., Duncan, T.R., Alvarez, S.C. and Hudson, L.G., 2020. Differential response of human T-lymphocytes to arsenic and uranium. Toxicology Letters333, pp.269-278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxlet.2020.08.013

Medina, S., Lauer, F.T., Castillo, E.F., Bolt, A.M., Ali, A.M.S., Liu, K.J. and Burchiel, S.W., 2020. Exposures to uranium and arsenic alter intraepithelial and innate immune cells in the small intestine of male and female mice. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, p.115155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.taap.2020.115155

Sanchez, B., Zhou, X., Gardiner, A.S., Herbert, G., Lucas, S., Morishita, M., Wagner, J.G., Lewandowski, R., Harkema, J.R., Shuey, C., Campen, M.J. and Zychowki, K.E., 2020. Serum-borne factors alter cerebrovascular endothelial microRNA expression following particulate matter exposure near an abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation. Particle and Fibre Toxicology17(1), pp.1-14. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12989-020-00361-3


Velasco, C.A., Artyushkova, K., Ali, A.M.S., Osburn, C.L., Gonzalez-Estrella, J., Lezama-Pacheco, J.S., Cabaniss, S.E. and Cerrato, J.M., 2019. Organic functional group chemistry in mineralized deposits containing U (IV) and U (VI) from the Jackpile Mine in New Mexico. Environmental science & technology53(10), pp.5758-5767. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b00407

El Hayek, E., Brearley, A.J., Howard, T., Hudson, P., Torres, C., Spilde, M.N., Cabaniss, S., Ali, A.M.S. and Cerrato, J.M., 2019. Calcium in Carbonate Water Facilitates the Transport of U (VI) in Brassica juncea Roots and Enables Root-to-Shoot Translocation. ACS Earth and Space Chemistry3(10), pp.2190-2196. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsearthspacechem.9b00171

Bolt, A.M., Medina, S., Lauer, F.T., Liu, K.J. and Burchiel, S.W., 2019. Minimal uranium immunotoxicity following a 60-day drinking water exposure to uranyl acetate in male and female C57BL/6J mice. Toxicology and applied pharmacology372, pp.33-39.

Blake, J.M., Avasarala, S., Ali, A.M.S., Spilde, M., Lezama-Pacheco, J.S., Latta, D., Artyushkova, K., Ilgen, A.G., Shuey, C., Nez, C. and Cerrato, J.M., 2019. Reactivity of As and U co-occurring in Mine Wastes in northeastern Arizona. Chemical geology522, pp.26-37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2019.05.024

Avasarala, S., Torres, C., Ali, A.M.S., Thomson, B.M., Spilde, M.N., Peterson, E.J., Artyushkova, K., Dobrica, E., Lezama-Pacheco, J.S. and Cerrato, J.M., 2019. Effect of bicarbonate and oxidizing conditions on U (IV) and U (VI) reactivity in mineralized deposits of New Mexico. Chemical Geology524, pp.345-355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemgeo.2019.07.007

Luo, L., Hudson, L.G., Lewis, J. and Lee, J.H., 2019. Two-step approach for assessing the health effects of environmental chemical mixtures: application to simulated datasets and real data from the Navajo Birth Cohort Study. Environmental Health18(1), p.46. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-019-0482-6

Miller, C., 2019. Marginal probabilities and point estimation for conditionally specified logistic regression. Communications in Statistics-Simulation and Computation, pp.1-26. https://doi.org/10.1080/03610918.2019.1643478

Nozadi, S.S., Li, L., Clifford, J., Du, R., Murphy, K., Chen, L., Navajo Birth Cohort Study Team, Seanez, P., Burnette, C., MacKenzie, D. and Lewis, J.L., 2019. Use of Ages and Stages Questionnaires™(ASQ) in a Navajo population: Comparison with the US normative dataset. Child: care, health and development45(5), pp.709-718. https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12704

Hoover, J., Erdei, E., Nash, J. and Gonzales, M., 2019. A Review of Metal Exposure Studies Conducted in the Rural Southwestern and Mountain West Region of the United States. Current epidemiology reports6(1), pp.34-49. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40471-019-0182-3


Zychowski, K.E., Kodali, V., Harmon, M., Tyler, C.R., Sanchez, B., Ordonez Suarez, Y., Herbert, G., Wheeler, A., Avasarala, S., Cerrato, J.M., Kunda, N.K., Muttil, P., Shuey, C., Brearley, A., Ali, A.M.S., Lin, Y., Shoeb, M., Erdely, A. and Campen, C. 2018. Respirable uranyl-vanadate-containing particulate matter derived from a legacy uranium mine site exhibits potentiated cardiopulmonary toxicity. Toxicological Sciences164(1), pp.101-114. https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfy064

El Hayek, E., Torres, C., Rodriguez-Freire, L., Blake, J.M., De Vore, C.L., Brearley, A.J., Spilde, M.N., Cabaniss, S., Ali, A.M.S. and Cerrato, J.M., 2018. Effect of calcium on the bioavailability of dissolved uranium (VI) in plant roots under circumneutral pH. Environmental science & technology52(22), pp.13089-13098. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b02724

Dashner-Titus, E.J., Hoover, J., Li, L., Lee, J.H., Du, R., Liu, K.J., Traber, M.G., Ho, E., Lewis, J. and Hudson, L.G., 2018. Metal exposure and oxidative stress markers in pregnant Navajo Birth Cohort Study participants. Free Radical Biology and Medicine124, pp.484-492. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.04.579

Harmon, M.E., Lewis, J., Miller, C., Hoover, J., Ali, A.M.S., Shuey, C., Cajero, M., Lucas, S., Pacheco, B., Erdei, E. and Ramone, S., 2018. Arsenic association with circulating oxidized low-density lipoprotein in a Native American community. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A81(13), pp.535-548. https://doi.org/10.1080/15287394.2018.1443860

Bolt, A.M., Medina, S., Lauer, F.T., Xu, H., Ali, A.M., Liu, K.J. and Burchiel, S.W., 2018. Minimal uranium accumulation in lymphoid tissues following an oral 60-day uranyl acetate exposure in male and female C57BL/6J mice. PloS one13(10), p.e0205211. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205211

Gonzales, M., Erdei, E., Hoover, J. and Nash, J., 2018. A review of environmental epidemiology studies in southwestern and mountain west rural minority populations. Current epidemiology reports5(2), pp.101-113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40471-018-0146-z

Gonzales, M., King, E., Bobelu, J., Ghahate, D.M., Madrid, T., Lesansee, S. and Shah, V., 2018. Perspectives on Biological Monitoring in Environmental Health Research: A Focus Group Study in a Native American Community. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health15(6), p.1129. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061129

Hoover, J.H., Coker, E., Barney, Y., Shuey, C. and Lewis, J., 2018. Spatial clustering of metal and metalloid mixtures in unregulated water sources on the Navajo Nation–Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, USA. Science of The Total Environment633, pp.1667-1678. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.288


Avasarala, S., Lichtner, P.C., Ali, A.M.S., González-Pinzón, R., Blake, J.M. and Cerrato, J.M., 2017. Reactive transport of U and V from abandoned uranium mine wastes. Environmental science & technology51(21), pp.12385-12393. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b03823