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Meetings scheduled on compensation for Utah’s ‘downwinders’ affected by nuclear testing

https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/2022/10/24/meetings-scheduled-compensation-utahs-nuclear-downwinders/10588294002/ David DeMille, St. George Spectrum & Daily News,

Southern Utah’s thousands of “downwinders” — people whose families suffered high rates of cancer attributed to U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and ’60s — could be eligible for federal compensation.

An estimated 60,000 people were exposed to radioactive fallout in southern Utah during the testing programs that took place at the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested and much of the radiation was sent “downwind” to the east via the prevailing winds.

For years, the federal government has issued money to those affected via the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which was set to expire this summer but was extended by Congress for another two years. 

Qualifying downwinders, or spouses and/or children of deceased loved ones, may apply for up to $50,000 in compensation.

To help residents learn more about the program and whether they may be eligible for some of the compensation funds, St. George area medical officials are set to host a series of meetings this week in rural communities. Representatives from Intermountain Healthcare are also taking questions via phone from anyone interested.

The act allows qualifying downwinders to receive a one-time payout of $50,000, said Becky Barlow, project director and nurse practitioner at the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) Clinic at Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital. Test site workers can apply for $75,000, and certain uranium workers can apply for $100,000.

“We are pleased that the president and Congress would continue to support downwinders and uranium workers that were unknowingly exposed because of nuclear testing or jobs in uranium mining and refinement,” Barlow said.

Applications and information are available by calling 435-251-4760.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was first passed in 1990 as an alternative to costly litigation to ensure the federal government met its financial responsibilities to workers who became sick as a result of the radiation hazards of their jobs. Coverage was broadened a decade later.

There was some question about whether the program might end this year, but the two-year extension takes it through summer 2024. It also covers some different cancers and includes different stipulations, so people who were denied in past attempts might be eligible under the new rules.

If possible, the Department of Justice prefers to award the money directly to the person impacted by the testing. However, if that person is already deceased, their legal spouse can apply for the money, and in some cases the person’s children or grandchildren can also apply.

“If you had a family member impacted and you don’t know if they filed, you can contact us to check,” Barlow said.

Anyone with questions regarding the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or in need of screenings, should call 435-251-4670.

David DeMille writes about southwestern Utah for The Spectrum & Daily News, a USA TODAY Network newsroom based in St. George. Follow him at @SpectrumDeMille or contact him at ddemille@thespectrum.com.

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October 24, 2022 - Posted by | health, Legal, USA, weapons and war

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