Congressman Gosar moves to revisit ‘downwinder’ issue

Eddie Pattillo is among the survivors of Mohave County Downwinders, a group of people who were exposed to low doses of radiation during testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada during the 1950s.

Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.

Eddie Pattillo is among the survivors of Mohave County Downwinders, a group of people who were exposed to low doses of radiation during testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada during the 1950s.

LAKE HAVSU CITY – For more than 25 years, Mohave County’s “downwinders” have been separated from government compensation by lines on a map. This week, Congressman Paul Gosar may have brought the group one step closer to what they may be owed.

An amendment by Gosar to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act will now require the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess whether people in Mohave County and other areas exposed to fallout from Cold War nuclear testing could be eligible for compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.

The “downwinders” are a shrinking population in Mohave County – those affected by the radiation of more than 200 nuclear tests conducted in Nevada from 1945 to 1962. Thousands of people throughout the Southwest were downwind of the testing site and later contracted cancers and serious diseases from radiation exposure.

Victims who were downwind of the blasts were awarded $50,000 through the 1990 Act, but such compensation only applied to residents of Central Nevada, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Omitted from the map were Mohave County and Clark County, Nevada.

Gosar has long campaigned for compensation to Mohave County’s “downwinders,” and has attempted to introduce legislation to serve them in years past.

“Congress and the federal government have a clear responsibility to provide remuneration for all victims that developed radiation-induced cancer from these federal tests,” Gosar said in a Wednesday release. “I will not relent until justice is served and suffering Americans receive some form of compensation for the government negligence that ruined many of their lives. The passage of this amendment is a step in the right direction.”

According to Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, Gosar’s efforts are appreciated.

“It’s great to see someone continuing to push this issue, and to see Gosar try to get some kind of repayment for people affected by nuclear testing,” Johnson said. “There were quite a few families that were suffering, and a lot of people succumbed to those cancers. We weren’t as heavily-populated as other counties back then, and Mohave County got overlooked.”

According to Johnson, the error in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act’s mapping could easily have been fixed, but instead it has taken decades.

“The majority of the ‘downwinders’ have already passed away, and we’re losing more and more of them. For someone affected, it’s a huge deal. And it doesn’t just affect people, but water and plants as well.”

Gosar’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was approved in Congress on Tuesday.