Hopi Looking to Address Arsenic Issues

by John Christian Hopkins, originally posted on August 26, 2016


The Hopi Tribe lost its federal suit against the U.S. government last year, but the problem of too much arsenic in the tribe’s drinking water persists.

The arsenic level in the tribe’s drinking water ranges from two times to five times the normal level.

Anita Polacca, 92, said the water was good around the village of Sichomovi in the old days It wasn’t until wells were dug in the 1980s that the foul-tasting water showed up.

Many Hopis now boil the water first before using it.

While that diminishes the taste of the chlorine that the tribe uses to fight the arsenic, it does nothing to reduce the arsenic level in the water.

As part of an agreement with the EPA, the tribe agreed to address the problems around the Hopi Cultural Center. That fix would address the water needs of only about 25 people.

But the hefty price tag for the endeavor would be between $18M and $20M, according to the EPA.

That’s money the tribe doesn’t have.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can, with as little as we have,” Hopi Vice Chairman Alfred Lomahquahu Jr. said.

And fixing the Hopi Cultural Center’s water supply wouldn’t really do much the larger need.

The tribe estimates that 75-percent of its 7,000 members are forced to use arsenic-tainted water.

According to the EPA, large levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer, organ damage and lead to circulatory system disorders and other health issues. The Hopi troubles began in 2006 when the EPA revised its guidelines for safe drinking water. The previous 50 parts per million was reduced to 10 parts per million and immediately put some Hopi wells in non-compliance.

The Hopi Tribe had sued, claiming it was part of the federal government’s trust responsibility to provide safe drinking water to the tribe.

The Appeals Court ruled against the Hopis in April of 2015.

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