On July 16th, 1945 the United States of America successfully detonated its first atomic warhead. Of course such a test came with a considerable amount of preparation: $12 million dollars were spent on a steel container to contain and preserve the plutonium used in event the bomb “fizzled”; extra roads were built into the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range; a 100ft tower was constructed from which to detonate the bomb; troops were stationed in nearby towns in case of a need to evacuate people; the New Mexico Governor was warned of a potential need to declare martial law; press releases and explanations were prepared in the event of disaster and the loss of life. There was no preparation, however, to protect people from the little-understood radioactive fallout.
There was a great deal of atmospheric testing that occurred up until 1963, mostly in the state of Nevada. This arms race and nuclear testing exposed millions of people to radiation due to mining, transportation, and testing fall out. In 1990 the United States Congress ratified the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which specified compensation amounts for workers and some “downwinders” (people living downwind from the testing grounds and who were exposed to the fallout of the tests). The act only acknowledges downwinders in Arizona, Nevada and Utah; however, and does not acknowledge the people who were exposed in that first test in Nevada.
In an effort to get recognition; community members of the Tularosa Basin have conducted health surveys of current and former residents to prove their area has an above average rate of cancers and have been protesting and meeting with government officials for decades. Members of the community report having high numbers of family members and family members through generations contracting multiple cancers. This means that there are families with multiple members that have had to take time off work or quit their jobs due to battling cancer, putting a larger strain on the remaining healthy members of that family to support or assist their sisters, brothers, parents or children with no financial assistance to help with that burden. And in counties were having health insurance is below the national average.
One health survey conducted describes the immediate aftermath of the bomb test:
“A family reports living in Oscuro, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, along with other families. After the Trinity bomb detonated, their chickens died. The family dog died. The individual’s mother hung bed sheets on the windows and wet them to keep the dust [fallout] out of the house.”
Another response highlights the loss of multiple family members:
“A woman born in September 1930 in Bosquecito, New Mexico, was living in Bingham, New Mexico when the bomb exploded at the Trinity site. She has lived in Socorro for many decades. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007 at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The same doctor who diagnosed her cancer performed her mastectomy. She later received treatment at the New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She reports losing both parents to cancer each at the age of 65 years. Her oldest sister also had breast cancer, and her younger brother died from pancreatic cancer in 2015.”
The Tularosa county downwinders are asking for New Mexico to be listed as a downwinders area in RECA, and other changes that would allow them to receive compensation for their unknown exposure, but RECA remains unchanged.