“Downwinders” affected by radiation exposure call on lawmakers to extend compensation

Nov 6, 2023, 6:31 PM

Mary Dickson, a playwright, former journalist and downwinder, shares her experience at a press conf...

Mary Dickson, a playwright, former journalist and downwinder, shares her experience at a press conference calling on Utah's congressional delegation to support the legislative expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in front of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

(Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates called on Utah lawmakers to extend and expand compensation for the state’s “downwinders” on Monday. They are the people who got cancer from exposure to radioactive material in Utah and other states.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. conducted nearly 200 nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to 1962. After these tests, “lawsuits against the United States alleged failure to warn of exposures to known radiation hazards.”

So, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed in 1990. Former U.S. Senator from Utah Orrin Hatch brought it forward.

The act provides compensation to those impacted by nuclear weapons testing. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, RECA doesn’t require people to establish causation. They just need to have a diagnosed disease related to radiation and have worked or lived near nuclear weapons testing sites.

That includes people who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site, or so-called downwinders.

Downwinders in Utah

Mary Dickson is one of these downwinders. She has gone through countless treatments for cancer caused by radiation. She and advocates from HEAL Utah are asking Utah’s federal delegation to expand the bipartisan RECA.

But up to this point, all members of Utah’s federal delegation have voted no.

“Though so many Utahns would benefit from that amendment, our delegation has yet to lend its support,” Dickson said.

The bill has provided financial support for downwinders for years. Dickson said Congress needs to extend and expand this bill to keep giving downwinders the care they need. It’s set to expire in June of 2024.

Dickson encourages Utahns to learn about the plight of the downwinders and directly ask for lawmaker’s support.

Kristine Weller contributed to this story.

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“Downwinders” affected by radiation exposure call on lawmakers to extend compensation