Protecting Children in Schools Where Uranium Was Mined For Atomic Bomb, Kyrgyzstan

As we’ve been harshly reminded, schools can sometimes be exposed to great danger. The tragedy last month in the U.S. got us thinking about what we are doing in schools in Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan. Although the threat is different, the response is the same – we are working to reduce the risks and make things safer.

Mailuu-Suu was where the Soviet Union mined uranium for the first atomic bomb. Since then, residents have been living with this toxic legacy.

Radiation flows out of the taps in Mailuu-Suu.  But you wouldn’t immediately spot the danger just by looking at the water or the surroundings.Mailuu-Suu school cafeteriaIn one school’s neat cafeteria (pictured above), where pretty pink curtains framed the windows, and rows of tables were set with lace tablecloths and colorful mugs, children were eating food cooked with contaminated water every day.

Overlooking the room, as if to obscure Mailuu-Suu’s toxic legacy, was a poster of a pristine lake flanked by lush mountains and trees.

Outside, children were washing their hands and faces, and drinking water filled with radioactive particles out of a tap in the yard.

Mailuu-Suu’s schools are preparing these children for a bright future, which they might not have because of the constant, everyday poisoning.

It is a complex problem.  The contamination is everywhere. We had to start somewhere. So what we did was to focus on reducing the risks to the most vulnerable. We began installing water filters in schools and the hospital.

Installing filters at a school in Mailuu-Suu.

While each filter is supposed to last for 3 years, in Mailuu-Suu, they were useless after just nine months because of the severe levels of contamination.

Until the contamination in this community is cleaned up, the last line of defense for these children are the water filters.

So far, it is working.  It is reducing the health risks to these children.  There is still much work to do and the threat remains.  But we cannot just do nothing. We must do what we can to make a difference now. We must solve pollution so these children can reach their full potential and have a chance at a healthy, productive future. This is true in Mailuu-Suu, and it is true everywhere.

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