Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
Wed, Dec. 11

Fallout: Part IV of V<BR>Victims seek compensation for fallout related cancers

Longtime Kingman residents Roy Steele and his wife, Dorothy, say it is more than mere coincidence that over the years seven members of their family have died of cancer.

They also believe that the cancer Roy Steele is battling - multiple myeloma, which affects the plasma of white blood cells- is connected to the cancers that took the lives of their loved ones.

The common link, they believe, is radiation exposure from the Nevada Test Site, the home of nuclear weapons testing, just 170 miles from Kingman.

Larger than the state of Rhode Island, and one of the largest restricted areas in the United States, Nevada Test Site personnel conducted above-ground nuclear weapons testing from 1951 through 1963, sending mushroom-shaped clouds of radiation as far as the east coast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to radiation poses a risk to humans.

It is a carcinogen that also can cause mental retardation and genetic defects.

Between debilitating bouts of chemotherapy, Steele said, he tries to lead a normal life, but he believes it was exposure to radiation clouds from the Nevada Test Site that caused the cancer to invade his body.

Exposure to atomic radiation is first on a list of risk factors for multiple myeloma.

Other factors include exposure to petroleum products, pesticides, solvents and heavy metals, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Painful chemotherapy prevents Steele from leading a normal life, and the treatments are expensive, but the thing that bothers the Steeles the most, they say, is that although there is a government program to compensate individuals with certain serious diseases linked to radiation exposure, they are not eligible.

Before the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act became law in 1990, Steele said, he and his family were unaware of the connection between radiation fallout and life-threatening diseases such as cancer.

Steele, who lived in Mohave County during the time when more than 100 nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site, is one hundreds of Mohave County "downwinders," people who lived or worked "downwind" of the Nevada Test Site, in Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and most of Nevada, for at least two years between Jan.

21, 1951, and Oct.

31, 1958, or during July 1962, and may have suffered cancer and other diseases caused by exposure to radiation.

Although counties in Nevada, California, New Mexico and Arizona are recognized under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act as geographical areas covered, Mohave County is not, making Steele, and other Mohave County downwinders ineligible for compensation.

While compensation can never erase the 25 years Kingman resident Bill Brown has spent battling skin cancer, Brown, too, said he believes Mohave County residents were affected by radiation fallout.

In 1957 Brown, his wife, Virginia, and their two daughters were traveling home from Washington state when their vehicle ran out of gas between two towns near the Nevada Test Site.

Virginia Brown said they were stranded near a fence surrounding the compound at the test site at about 5 a.m.

"Bill was outside the car trying to flag a ride to the next town while my daughters and I were inside the car," she said.

"A bomb exploded and we saw a mushroom-shaped cloud.

"A few minutes later a real muddy-looking fog rolled down the road."

Bill Brown remembers the precise moment the "cloud" washed over him.

"When it hit my face it was moist," he said.

It wasn't until 1977 that Brown noticed something on his face that wouldn't go away.

An appointment with a doctor confirmed his worst fears: basal cell carcenoma, a deadly type of skin cancer.

"The part of my face that had been exposed that day was affected," said Brown, who has had 15 surgeries to remove cancer from his face.

Almost half of Brown's nose was removed and he has lost his sense of smell.

"We are pretty sure (the cancer was caused by) his exposure to the fallout that day," Virginia Brown said.

For Christine Morago Gorra, 34, the death of her mother in October 2002 still causes tears.

"She had lung cancer, although she took good care of herself and did not smoke," Gorra, the mother of three, said.

"There is no reason my mom should have had that cancer."

Gorra attended a Mohave County Downwinders meeting in August and said she wants justice for those who were affected by radiation fallout.

"There are people here who are missing family members because of the nuclear testing that took place," she said.

"I want the government to admit that."

Part 5: Legislators look toward getting Mohave County on the U.S.

Department of Justice map.

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