The presence of the Downwinders was felt in Richland at the Hanford Manhattan Project 70th Anniversary, in a presentation by Kate Brown, author of Plutopia, accompanied by a panel discussion and Q&A with several Hanford Downwinders.
The Downwinders became an official part of this commemoration at the last minute after cobbling together enough donations to pay the demanded $1000 “sponsorship” fee. This fundraising followed several weeks in which it was not clear that we would be invited at all. Had the Downwinders not persisted in our efforts to be included, this Hanford 70th Anniversary would have motored on without mention of the human toll of Hanford operations.
Our last-minute session was not well attended. I didn’t care—what mattered was that the Downwinders were included in the commemoration of the nuclear weapons factory that had so damaged our lives.
Kate spoke eloquently about the issues she wrote about in Plutopia, which is the first book to examine the parallels between the two Atomic Utopias, Richland, WA, and Ozersk in the former Soviet Union, created to house plutonium production workers and their families. (Kate was later interviewed by Northwest Public Radio about the common radiogenic health issues seen in both the early residents of Richland and Ozersk (put in link on website for interview). One of the key points she made was the distinction between our own government’s approach of looking at estimated exposure to a single radioactive substance in radioactive fallout-exposed populations and that of other countries, in which the overall health of exposed populations is assessed.
During the panel discussion, Tom Bailie, world recognized for his advocacy on behalf of Hanford’s Downwinders, and a health-impacted Hanford downwinder himself, related his history of exposure as a child on a farm in Mesa, Washington. He told of births of deformed farm animals, and of his own birth defects and hospitalization resulting from thyroid-related paralysis.
Jay Mullen, retired professor of history at Southern Oregon University, suffered sudden paralysis relating to thyroid damage when he was a late teen. He had lived as a child in the late 1940s in Idaho on a military base downwind of Hanford, during years in which large amounts of radioactive iodine were discharged offsite. Radioactive iodine in milk, when absorbed by a child’s thyroid, can do severe damage.
As the third member of the Downwinder panel, I represented the children of workers who have become sick following childhoods spent next to the Hanford facility during years of plutonium production. I had my thyroid surgically removed on the advice of my doctors, after what I believe to be radioactive iodine exposure related pre-cancerous nodules were discovered. I suffer from a lifelong cluster of symptoms including unrelenting fatigue, migraine headaches, severe digestive issues, and general malaise.
US government agencies’ narrow focus on only one of hundreds of potentially damaging radioactive substances to which we were exposed ignores all but the single disease associated with that one substance. The approach taken in Japan and the former Soviet Union, of looking at the whole person, at the overall health of exposed populations, is the only way to honestly assess the human toll of these combined radioactive exposures.