Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Idaho seeks 'downwinder' compensation

Resolutions asks for congressional approval


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Legislature paved the way Tuesday for state victims of nuclear fallout over 40 years ago to finally have the right to make a claim under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

The Senate unanimously passed a House Joint Memorial Resolution calling for "downwinders" to be eligible for compensation from the U.S. government in the same way residents of several counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona already are. There have been 21,387 claims since 1990, with a total of $875,864,142 awarded in compensation.

The resolution calls for fixed payments in amounts of $50,000 to individuals residing or working "downwind" of the Nevada Test Site; $75,000 for workers participating in above-ground nuclear weapons tests; and $100,000 for uranium miners.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, co-sponsored the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, were the Senate sponsors.

Those people downwind of the U.S. atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in Nevada, between the years 1950 to 1962, were subjected to radiation fallout. The HJM bill states "The United States government has chosen to provide compassionate payments to some who have suffered from identified illnesses through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The twenty-one counties currently covered were exposed to a lesser extent than most Idahoans. Four of the five highest exposure counties in the United States are in Idaho. We seek equitable coverage through RECA for Idahoans."

Idaho counties added to the eligible list are Blaine, Camas, Custer, Gem and Lemhi.

Marypat Fields, a resident of Fairfield, did a survey, Stennett said. "Camas is a great test case. They're rural residents who still live there after 40 years. She found that 12 percent of the residents who lived there during the testing have developed some kind of cancer that's ties to nuclear fallout."

The cancers are leukemia, lymphoma, colon cancer, prostrate, thyroid, ovarian, and breast. "Those are the ones that are directly tied to the fallout of Iodine 131," Stennett said. "It used the pathway of whole milk. I grew up in Idaho and we drank whole milk all day long."

Since "downwinder" animals ate affected grass and feed, the causes for the cancers can be myriad.

A women raised in Bellevue was one of those who testified Tuesday at the Senate hearing on the bill. Her sister died from ovarian cancer when she was 19.

"$50,000 won't make up for the loss of a loved one but it's a definite statement from the government that they screwed up, and in a sense it says they're sorry," Stennett said. "Several people have written to us from Shoshone, Bellevue and obviously, Camas County. Now people can write directly. Sen. Craig, R-Idaho, has promised he has the legislation drafted and is just waiting for the State Legislature so he knows they're behind this."

Claims may be made to Dr. Isaf Al-Nabulsi, at the National Research Council, Board of Radiation Effects, Research Nation Academies of Science, Division of Earth and Life Studies, 500 Fifth St. NW, Washington DC 20001.




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