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Downwinders could be eligible for compensation for illnesses caused by nuclear radiation

Days Past: Are you a Downwinder? , Shannon Williams, The Courier, 4 Feb 18  Downwinder: this term has become well known in Yavapai County. Downwind radiation exposure has been cited in many cancer diagnoses and blamed for the deaths of many long-term residents of the county.

How did this happen? During the Cold War, the U.S. government built a huge nuclear arsenal. Above-ground testing began in 1951 at the Nevada Test Site, where over 100 nuclear bombs were detonated through 1958. All nuclear testing stopped in 1958 by agreement among the United States, the United Kingdom and the USSR.

The government detonated several above-ground devices in July 1962. This was the last time nuclear weapons were tested above ground. Nuclear testing continued below ground at the Nevada Test Site. From Jan. 21, 1951, to Oct. 31, 1958, and June 30, 1962, to July 31, 1962, when above-ground testing was conducted, were later designated as Downwind time periods.

After the 1962 testing period, many of the workers at the test sites and local residents filed class action lawsuits alleging exposure to known radiation hazards. All of the suits were dismissed by the courts. Congress responded by creating the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) on Oct. 5, 1990. The Act was then expanded in 2000, when the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) was created. RECA provides monetary compensation as an apology to individuals who developed certain cancers after their exposure to radiation. RECA authorized the payment of $50,000 to individuals who lived downwind from the Nevada Test Site and developed one of the specified diseases.

Congress designated several counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona as areas impacted by the radiation exposure. In Arizona, the Downwind-eligible counties include Apache, Coconino, Gila, Mohave (above the Grand Canyon), Navajo and Yavapai………

Many local residents have been affected by these nuclear tests, as we now know. Perhaps the most well-known was longtime Prescott resident and former City Council member John Hanna, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in October 2013 – which the government has acknowledged was likely caused by radiation from nuclear testing. Quoting from the book “Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West,” by Sarah Alisabeth Fox: “Many families” in the areas affected by fallout “kept livestock and gardens or bought meat, milk, and produce from their neighbors, unwittingly gathering radiological contamination … and placing it on their dinner tables.”

To file a RECA claim, individuals need to provide documentation to show physical presence in the Downwind counties for two years during the Downwind time periods.

In addition, individuals need to establish their diagnosis of a compensable cancer. Compensable diagnoses include leukemia, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and cancers of the thyroid, lungs, esophagus, and breast, among others. Applicants do not need to provide causation on their cancer diagnosis. They only need to gather medical records that show proof of the eligible cancer.

RECA expires on July 9, 2022. All Downwinder RECA claims must be submitted before this date.

Join Shannon Williams, health promotions manager with RESEP, when she presents “Downwinders Program: Are You Eligible?” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at Sharlot Hall Museum. Come early, as seating is limited.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at for information.


February 5, 2018 - Posted by | health, USA, weapons and war

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