Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Idaho 'downwinders' seek compensation

Crapo to introduce legislation amendment

Express Staff Writer

A bill designed to compensate citizens victimized by nuclear testing fallout in Western states in the 1950s and 1960s has received backing from two additional senators.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., announced Friday they would introduce legislation to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include all victims of nuclear fallout, known as "downwinders."

Currently, RECA is based on geographic location, and only isolated downwinder populations in Utah, Arizona and Nevada have been included, despite studies indicating Idaho received among the highest doses of radioactive fallout from tests in Nevada.

The amendment included in the bill would "more accurately account for compensation so it is based on the medical history of applicants and not reliant on geographic locations," according to a news release from Crapo and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Craig is an original co-sponsor of the bill to include victims in Idaho.

"My colleagues and I are in the business of making Idahoans eligible for RECA compensation as expeditiously as possible," Craig said in a news release. "Studies that take years will simply not do for citizens who would otherwise be eligible if they lived on the other side of a state line."

In a letter to President George Bush, Crapo asked that Idaho and Montana be included in RECA, and urged unanimous consent that the text of the bill be included in the record.

"The facts are in, and the science shows that they should not have to wait any longer for their rightful opportunity to seek appropriate redress," Crapo wrote, adding that for many, like Sheri Garmon, "it is already too late."

Garmon, an Idaho downwinder victim and advocate for compensation, died from cancer last summer.

"These are victims just looking for justice," said Jeremy Maxand, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho nuclear watchdog group. Maxand added that downwinders in Idaho have been waiting for compensation for years, "and folks aren't going to wait around (anymore)."

Crapo said certain elements from the radiation fallout settled in Idaho and Montana and apparently contaminated the milk supply.

"After time, in some cases 25 to 50 years after the fact, this contamination manifested itself as various forms of cancer, leukemia and other illnesses, particularly thyroid cancer," Crapo wrote.

Earlier this month, Sarah Michael, chairwoman of the Blaine County Commission, wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., asking him to hold a hearing to include Blaine County residents in RECA.

"Blaine County, Idaho, is home to world famous Sun Valley Ski Resort and has clean air, water, wide open spaces and a wonderful quality of life," Michael wrote. "Tragically, we were among the hardest hit counties resulting from nuclear testing in Nevada."

Michael went on to tell on the story of the Satterlee family, fifth generation Blaine County residents who ate locally raised beef and vegetables grown in their own garden.

"Of the children born between 1950 and 1968, one died from ovarian cancer at 19, another sister has had four non-cancerous tumors removed, one the size of a watermelon ... and the father, a non-smoker, died from lung cancer," Michael wrote. "We believe that Blaine County residents deserve compensation."

A hearing is expected in the spring of 2006.

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