Downwinders push for Congress to expand bill for those affected by radiation

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Thousands of Arizona families, dubbed “downwinders,” have been afflicted with multigenerational cancers from living “downwind” of U.S. nuclear testing sites and uranium mines could benefit from a new bipartisan bill if passed by Congress. Matthew Capalby from the Downwinders of Mojave County and Justin Ahasteen, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office, joined Arizona Horizon to share more.

After the hit blockbuster movie “Oppenheimer,” renewed attention from the public has been placed back on those who were affected by radiation from nuclear testing sites, which the U.S. began operating during World War II.

In the early 1990s, the government enacted the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA, but many areas in Arizona, like Mohave County, weren’t included, and the “downwinders” argue they’ve been forgotten.

During this time, the demand for uranium grew as the U.S. worked on developing atomic bombs. Unfortunately, a large portion of this uranium came from places like the Navajo Nation, where people worked tirelessly in the mines without fully understanding the risks involved.

After 1971, when people began to realize the dangers of radiation exposure, many miners found themselves unable to continue working. Families suffered from serious health problems including cancer caused by their prolonged exposure to uranium.

In an attempt to address this issue, the government passed RECA in 1990. However, Capalby believes RECA fell short of helping everyone who was affected. It didn’t cover all the areas where people got sick, and it didn’t provide enough support to those who needed it most.

Ahasteen is pushing for RECA to be expanded to include all individuals and communities impacted by uranium mining, including workers’ families and those who were directly exposed to radiation.

Despite their efforts, there hasn’t been enough support from Arizona’s congressional delegation, leaving many questions about their commitment to addressing the issue. Both are determined to seek justice for those affected by uranium mining.

Matthew Capalby, Downwinders of Mojave County
Justin Ahasteen, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office

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