Potential Impact of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments on the Health of People of New Mexico

 

On July 16, 1945, the US Government tested the first nuclear device called “Gadget” in what was designated the “Trinity Site” in south central New Mexico. The Government described the area as “remote and uninhabited”. In reality there were more than 40,000 people living in the four counties surrounding the Trinity Site; they are Otero, Lincoln, Socorro and Sierra Counties. Some of the highest cancer rates in the U.S. are found in these counties. The people of New Mexico were the first victims of an atomic bomb and were unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated, innocent participants in the world’s largest science experiment.

The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC) founded in 2005 by Tina Cordova and the late Fred Tyler have been working for 10 years to bring attention to the negative health effects from radioactive fallout resultant of the Trinity test and have for many years partnered with Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Holly Beaumont of Interfaith Worker Justice-New Mexico (IWJ-NM) and Dr. Maureen Merritt of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in this endeavor.

No epidemiological study of the resultant illnesses has ever been done. Part of the work accomplished by the TBDC has been the development and collection of health surveys from people living in the communities closest to the Trinity Site. It has been a process entirely carried out by volunteers. The HIA grant will provide the much needed resources to expand and fully formalize the collection and interpretation of the health surveys.

In 1990 the US Government set up a fund called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to compensate people who were made sick living downwind of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The fund has been available for people in parts of Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Colorado – and uranium miners in some parts of New Mexico – who have been affected by the radiation exposure. New Mexico downwinders have never been included in this fund although the people of New Mexico were the very first downwinders. The fund has paid out over $2 billion in claims and provided invaluable health care coverage to the downwinders of the Nevada test site.

For five years amendments to RECA have been introduced by Senator Udall and others to include New Mexican downwinders in the compensation program. Though we gather more Congressional signatures in support of its passage each year, key Congressional Committees have not yet scheduled a hearing on the Amendments. It is the goal of the TBDC, CCNS, IWJ-NM and PSR to utilize the data collected through the HIA to inform the decision for why New Mexico should be included in the RECA “downwinders” program.

Media links around the Tularosa Basin’s HIA report-