NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Over the last few years, locals on tribal and Native American land have been boosting their abilities to handle dangerous waste and materials. With training from the federal government and partners, local communities are increasing their ability to avert disaster and respond to crises.

In 2022 alone, more than 1,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives across the U.S. took part in training programs provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, according to their May 2023 report. The idea is to make sure communities have well-trained individuals ready to engage in potentially dangerous industries.

Given New Mexico’s relatively large Native American population and the presence of several industries that handle dangerous materials, it may come as no surprise that New Mexico is a top state for this sort of training. From 2018 to 2022, groups such as the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Pueblo of Isleta, the Pueblo of Zia, and seven other groups received training.

“There was a gas fire at my apartment complex, and I went into the apartment uninformed about the dangers of hazardous materials or knowledge of what I was dealing with. I could have become part of the problem, had the circumstances been different. After taking this class, my eyes have been opened about how differently this situation could have turned out. This is not a risk I would take again after this classroom learning,” one trainee from a 16-hour course in Albuquerque said in a press release.

In New Mexico, for example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters provided training on how to identify hazardous materials in 2019. This sort of training is particularly useful to Native Americans who are interested in working with – or who live near – New Mexico’s railroads, which often carry hazardous materials, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.