For ‘downwinders’ in Mohave County, justice at last
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that our health is everything. But some Mohave County residents have had an unfair shot at keeping healthy at the hands of the U.S. Government. Now, in the middle of a pandemic that puts those with preexisting conditions – including cancer – at a higher risk, we have an urgent responsibility to ensure they can access the resources and health-care treatments they deserve.
In the mid-20th century, the U.S. government conducted nearly 1,000 weapons development tests in southern Nevada, exposing thousands of Arizonans downwind of the test site to cancer-causing ionized radiation from nuclear fallout. The human toll is incalculable.
Since 1990, Congress attempted to make amends by passing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which made it possible for victims of illnesses resulting from nuclear testing to file claims with the Department of Justice and receive monetary compensation. Congress has since expanded the bill to include more individuals such as uranium miners and test site workers, but some have still been left behind.
But RECA included serious boundary flaws that have prevented some Downwinders in lower Mohave County from receiving the compensation to which they are entitled. Now, I’m partnering with Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee to correct this oversight and finally bring justice to those left behind.
The Downwinders Parity Act, H.R. 612, works to ensure that innocent Arizonans and Nevadans affected by our country’s national security decisions will be eligible under RECA. Not only does the legislation expand the affected area to include all of Mohave and Clark Counties, but it will ensure those who would become newly eligible for compensation are made aware of these benefits.
Research from the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute shows residents of Clark and Mohave Counties on average have even higher radiation exposure rates than the areas currently covered under RECA.
But all one has to do is talk to residents living in the area to know the pain this delay in justice has caused. The serious effects of exposure to low doses of radiation can be unpredictable, but incredibly harmful. Entire communities have suffered dramatic spikes in cancer rates. One family alone has lost 18 members to cancer before they reached the age of 55.
These Downwinders have been fighting for justice and recognition from the federal government for many years, and their stories are a painful reminder of the long-term medical and financial impacts of radiation exposure.
There is more work to be done – currently, the trust fund is set to expire in July of 2022. But for too long, these Downwinders have been left behind and overlooked. It’s time we finally right this wrong.
(Democratic U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton represents Arizona 9th congressional district.)
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