Tularosa Downwinders: a 75 Year Wait for JusticeHistorians in the News
tags: nuclear weapons, environmental history, Manhattan Project, New Mexico, Nuclear Testing
“It’s been over 75 years—we can’t wait anymore,” states Tina Cordova, cofounder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. The group, which came together in 2005, is seeking environmental justice for the victims and survivors, called Downwinders, who were contaminated by the testing of the world’s first nuclear bomb on July 16, 1945. Its goal is to extend and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
The RECA, which passed in 1990, will sunset in July of 2022. The act provides compensation and health benefits to uranium miners who worked in the industry prior to 1971 and former residents in parts of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona who lived downwind of the Nevada Test Site. However, even though the Trinity site—adjacent to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico—was the first test of a nuclear bomb, the contamination of New Mexicans has never been recognized. The expansion of RECA would include New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Guam, as well as the post-1971 uranium workers.
At a meeting held during an unseasonably warm November autumn afternoon in Albuquerque’s South Valley, Cordova and members of the organization address a group of organizers asking for support in their campaign. “It has been over 75 years and we have been suffering,” Cordova tells the crowd. “We were kept in the dark, lied to, and intentionally ignored. We deserve compensation for what our families have and continue to suffer.“ Cordova’s grandparents, parents, siblings, and extended family have suffered or died from a variety of cancers. Cordova too, is a survivor of thyroid cancer. She tells the organizers about the care that she provided her father, who suffered with throat cancer that progressed to his tongue and neck.
Although the US government knew about the danger posed by their bomb test, the residents of the area, most of whom are Chican@s/Latin@s with very long roots in the Tularosa Basin, were never told about the tests or informed about the risks to them, to their lands, or to their food and water supply. Residents found out only as they were awakened by a horrific blast that lit the early morning sky and experienced the subsequent radioactive white ash that fell over a 100-mile radius. Some said they thought it was “the end of the world!” Residents of the Basin and their way of life were forever changed. Their farm animals sickened and died from the contamination, warning the residents much like the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
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