When it comes to the truth about radiation and health effects, there are no experts who are honest - not in government, not in science, not anywhere. Yet, people would rather listen to liars than challenge their assumptions about the sources of the so-called truth and disregard the purveyors of actual truth on this topic: the non-creditialed self-taught. - Andrew Kishner, May 18, 2013
What is a downwinder? A downwinder is a victim of radioactive fallout. In the U.S., the term 'downwinder' usually refers to those persons who were unwittingly exposed to the airborne radioactive fallout released by any of the one-hundred open-air atomic blasts conducted at the Nevada Test Site by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). (read more)
The best way to learn about what is a downwinder is to hear them tell about their experience in their own words:
LETTER FROM A DOWNWINDER
I was 38, and rented a cottage at the beach in Maine with my children. Putting on sun screen everyday I noticed a lump on my jaw. I thought it was swollen glands from a cold and when I returned to Massachusetts, I went to the doctor for antibiotics. It turned out to be a rare salivary gland cancer and I spent the next year in cancer treatment. Ironically, my sister had been diagnosed with the same cancer when she turned 38 in Washington.
My surgeon was the first to tell me I had been exposed to radiation. On my initial visit he asked if I knew of any exposure--had I worked or lived near a nuclear power plant? I didn't know what he was talking about. Each doctor visit (and there are many, many visits when you have cancer) the subject of radiation exposure would come up again. The doctors were astonished that my sister and I had identical cancers--extremely rare, found in Hiroshima atom bomb victims or survivors of childhood cancers. Even the National Cancer Institute said the cancer was caused from ionizing radiation. I would walk into a doctor's office and the doctor would say, "Oh, you're the one! I've heard about you!" I knew they meant radiation exposure.
My doctor suggested that as an "act of consciousness" I needed to look into my exposure so others in my area could be taken care of adequately. Initial inquiries around my childhood town in Idaho were met with silence but then older residents remembered things--"there was a time our milk was thought to have radiation from Chinese bombs," "one year all the deer were deformed and couldn't be used for meat," "there were lots of two headed calves one year."
I still didn't know about any actual exposure and I asked my surgeon, "Really, what do you think?" He said, "I think you grew up in a really bad place."
My oncologist suggested I would have been exposed around age 14. So I decided to look for something that happened in 1970. I sent email to the Department of Defense and received an answer of where to look. It only took 5 minutes using the Department of Energy's 'opennet,' I got thousands of hits and was able to find thousands of documents about fallout in my area. These documents are in the process of being declassified and are only available on the internet. In the D.O.E. documents scientists suggest their own families stay indoors and drink powdered milk. We should have had that option. They knew we were being exposed. The documents call my area "unpopulated." The bomb tests that affected me were to see if nuclear weapons could be used in widening the Panama Canal. There were bomb tests nearly every day. They knew the tests were exposing off-site populations and continued "testing." The United States refused to sign treaties taking responsibility for any off-site exposures. Now they refuse to acknowledge the damage caused by hiding behind "discretionary function."
I found that the radiation compensation act only covers those who grew up in Southern Utah and Nevada, not my area. I have written to my senators who express support for more testing and support for plans of radiation disposal which may expose more of the population. I have found other classmates with cancers--brain tumors, thyroid problems, and other health problems related to radiation exposure. I'm worried about chromosome damage I may have unknowingly passed on to my children. I live with after-effects of cancer treatment--nerve damage, pain, balance problems, etc. I am still in physical therapy. My jaw locks when I try to speak. I've lost much of my hearing, my sense of taste if altered, my teeth are dying. And every day I worry if it will come back.
I don't fail to see the irony--I was a very health conscious person--I've never smoked. I spent most my time outdoors. I skiied, rode horses, backpacked. My childhood years we grew and bottled our own food. Our meat was venison we had hunted or chickens we raised. We drank unprocessed milk from local dairies. Now I know that was the worse thing we could have done. Our food chain was completely contaminated.
I am grateful I have doctors who have been supportive and who have opened my eyes to reality.
I never thought I'd be exposed to radiation. Now I know it can happen to ANYONE. There are no safe levels. The government does not watch out for the citizens. They haven't learned any lessons. The testing in Nevada began again in June, 1997. They claim these tests are "safe" just as they did all the tests before. I hope whoever reads this will take the time to voice their opinions to their government officials, as an act of consciousness.
The 'letter from a downwinder' - near its end - refers to subcritical nuclear testing, which began in 1997.
In essence, every American living during the 1950s or 1960s was a downwinder because every American was exposed externally and internally to the fallout. Most of the AEC's atomic tests sent radioactive clouds in unpredictable trajectories that spared no American countryside or city from radiation that was hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of counts higher than normal levels. In regions across the U.S., all-time-high records of radiation concentrations in air were broken year after year and it wasn't surprising to have counts over 10,000,000, or a thousand times the levels that provoked the first complaint made over radioactive fallout in the United States- that event, which occurred in January 1951, is chronicled on this page which is part of a must-read free e-book chapter about Nevada a-bomb testing fallout. (The chapter first starts out on the topic of the physicial properties of photographic film and radiation, but it soon gets hot and heavy about downwinder issues, including the meaning of the term 'discretionary function'; it is also a free e-reader book here). At this link are some maps taken from a declassified report about the 1953 Nevada a-bomb test series called 'Upshot-Knothole.'
What is Wrong With Downwinder Day
In 2012, January 27th was officially named 'Downwinder Day' pursuant to a resolution being passed in Congress that was spearheaded by several U.S. Senators.
Downwinders from U.S. A-bomb test fallout - especially the residents who were living near the test site in Utah, Arizona and also Nevada (who were impacted the greatest) - have had a very hard time since the late 1970s, when their first lawsuits against the government were filed. Their efforts to gain recognition and compensation for the radiation injuries they and their kin have suffered from the 1950s exposures have been largely unfruitful. That is why although some downwinders and downwinder groups and affiliates hailed the federal commemoration of January 27th as Downwinder Day in 2012, others weren't so happy.
Southern Utah's The Spectrum newspaper noted in their article 'Downwinders hope Day of Remembrance spurs change' that 'Some local downwinders saw the Day of Remembrance as difficult to embrace. Michelle Thomas, a St. George resident who was officially declared a downwinder when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, called the declaration an insult. "It's an empty occasion, devoid of any long-term positive benefit," she said, arguing that proclamations ring hollow when they are unlikely to come with any action. She said she is doubtful that a weapons ban or additional compensation is coming any time soon. "The only thing that would make me feel better is if they initiated that we would implement in the school system a program to teach about downwinders," she said..."It's education that's necessary, not a proclamation," she said.'
Downwinders and downwinder groups have been long hoping that additional compensation would be coming their way. The reason is that the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, only covers downwinders in a few dozen counties in Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
|The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (42 U.S.C. 2210) - passed in 1990 - provides payments to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases as a result of their exposure to radiation released during above-ground nuclear weapons tests or as a result of their exposure to radiation during employment at atomic testing sites or in underground uranium mines.|
Hoping to address the united concerns of downwinders of U.S. nuclear testing, downwinders have tried to boost support for a bill that would expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act called 'Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments,' which was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2010 and 2011 (although the bills failed to pass in the two Houses, the legislation can be reintroduced in the next Congress). For downwinders, the key provisions in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments bill, which would amend the 1990 RECA law, are expanding eligibility (to be a 'downwinder') to the full geography of seven Western states, including Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah, and also Guam, and tripling the compensation amount to $150,000 ($100,000 would be allocated to each past successful downwinder claimant).
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments bill proposes to widen qualifications for uranium workers and help indigenous peoples by allowing affidavits (to help victims prove residence/employment during specified periods of time). The bill would also allow resubmission of previously denied RECA claims up to three times and would give all successful claimants medical benefits. The bill would extend the RECA Trust Fund's termination date from its current 'sunset' in 2022 to roughly 2029.
The big problem with the RECA Amendments bill
The big problem with the RECA Amendments bill is that it was introduced without a price tag on it. We calculated the downwinder portion alone would cost $57 billion and that doesn't include medical benefits - see how at footnote 40 here. Taking into account also the uranium and test site worker's benefits, the bill might cost U.S. taxpayers one or two hundred billion dollars! Considering how 99% of Americans have no idea what a 'downwinder' is and the state of our economy, it doesn't seem likely that our elected representatives will vote for such a large payout, no matter how badly it is deserved, anytime soon. So, Michelle Thomas is right. It is doubtful that a weapons ban or additional compensation is coming any time soon. How will Americans' representatives in their Congress appreciate the humanitarian value of this bill if they themselves are ignorant of their own history? How many of them really know the plight of U.S. downwinders, or even their own exposures or risk for genetic damage? Education is a very good suggestion in lieu of a bill that is weighed down by an invisible price tag.
What is also a good suggestion is that we stop having the industry write our bills. The RECA amendment bill was written by a group of lawyers in Colorado. As you might expect, the bill reflects this entity's selfish interest. The law firm wrote into the bill an extra 8 percent kickback (on top of the original 'fixed' kickback of 2%) for firms like themselves for each successful claim! The special interest group that paid the law firm to write the bill suggested that the legislation also fund a health study of uranium workers - but not of downwinders! Isn't this selfish too? The amended bill would fund (to the tune of $3 million) an epidemiological study relating to health and uranium development. Here's a third suggestion in lieu of the bill: the U.S. treasury should fund the completion of a University of Utah study on the relationship between Iodine 131 fallout and thyroid disease that was cut in the 1990s before it could be completed!
There's much that we can do for downwinders that arguably should be done prior to introducing new legislation for RECA expansion. We need to fund or re-fund downwinder health studies and we need to educate the world about downwinders. There is so much about the downwinder plight that is not online, in bookstores, libraries or in the best documentary movie collection. So much about downwinders is still not well understood.
Learn about new findings and critical analysis about downwinder issues in the first three chapters of our free online book titled 'U.S.A.: The Original Nuclear Miscreant' here. Read our oped 'The Black and White World of RECA.' Also, learn about 'The Downwinders,' a first-ever full-length feature film about downwinders that is in post-production. NTS atmospheric bomb tests 1951-1962
Time restrictions under Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010:
We have uploaded here to Scribd.com the RECA House bill (note that the eligibility requirements for leukemia are different from the requirements of all the other RECA compensable 'specified' diseases) and at the end of that document we show the marked changes to the 1990 RECA law.
Levels of radiation on the ground linked to fallout from the March 17, 1953 atomic test dubbed 'Annie' - radioactive clouds met with rains across the country
Some atomic tests released radiation into air measuring over 10 million CPM (counts per minute)
Fallout traveled to California and Texas after this atom bomb test in 1953 - entire Southwest was 'hot'
Tumbler-Snapper radioactive debris map and data: Part 1 Part 2
Buster-Jangle Radioactive debris maps and data
Upshot-Knothole Radioactive debris data radioactive debris maps
The AEC conducted these tests of atom bomb devices - which were detonated atop towers, dropped from planes, set off on balloons, exploded in tunnels and in one case shot out of a 280-millimeter canon - from 1951 to 1958 and again from 1961 to 1962 at the 'Nevada Test Site,' now called the Nevada National Security Site. (The site was host to over 900 atomic and hydrogen bomb explosions conducted underground through 1992. A portion of those tests vented - or leaked - radiation through the ground and spewed fallout across America. See maps compiled - though presently available by a web archive service - by the U.S. National Cancer Institute about the fallout from these tests.) You can learn more about downwinders by reading these two recent opeds - one is about the undeniable evidence out there that downwinders were harmed by the fallout, and the other is a call for a government-funded study into the possibility that downwinders also suffered genetic damage. Another must-read is a Downwinder's reaction to a tour of the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas shortly after it opened.
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