Utah lawmaker calls for extension of downwinder protection

Local Politics

WASHINGTON (ABC4) – In less than a year, federal protections for Utahns and others considered ‘downwinders’ are set to end. Two Utah lawmakers are hoping to change that.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, is a federally funded program that provides partial restitution to those living in certain areas affected by the U.S.’s nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1962. Those affected, dubbed downwinders, are known to have developed cancer following the nearby above-ground atomic weapons testing.

Currently, eligibility under RECA is currently set to expire on July 7, 2022. More than 60,000 people are said to have been exposed to radioactive fallout in southern Utah during the nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. 

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has introduced the Downwinders Act to renew and extend these protections for Utahns and others under the RECA act for ten additional years. The act also expands eligibility to include individuals in Utah and New Mexico who have been found to have been adversely affected but are not eligible for compensation under current law. It also requires new research from the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy to identify if other counties should be provided eligibility and pays for all costs of the act by auctioning government-owned spectrum.

Currently, qualifying downwinders – or spouses and/or children of deceased loved ones – may apply for up to $50,000 in compensation. Qualifying cancers include:

  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Lymphomas, other than Hodgkin’s 
  • Primary cancers of the: Pharynx, small intestine, salivary gland, brain, stomach, urinary bladder, colon, thyroid, pancreas, female or male breast, esophagus, bile ducts, liver, gall bladder, lung, and ovary.

Sen. Lee and another Utah Republican lawmakers, Representative Chris Stewart, have sent a letter to the director of the National Cancer Institute requesting the previously available data on atomic testing radiation exposure again be made accessible to the public.

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