Justice for Tularosa Basin Downwinders

July 31, 2015

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the first detonation of an atomic bomb, the Trinity test in Southern New Mexico. For the world, it was the beginning of the nuclear age. But for the residents of the Tularosa Basin, it was also the beginning of decades of great illness and suffering.

The people who lived in the area are called “downwinders” because they were exposed to clouds of radiation that blew from the explosion. People miles away from the site saw the blast. Radioactive debris fell from the sky, killing cattle and poisoning food and water. Generations of residents have suffered from cancer and other illnesses as a result. Yet from the beginning, the government has refused to take accountability for the suffering it caused.

I’m working to change that.

Tina Cordova, a leading voice of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, has helped raise attention for those who were made sick after the Trinity blast. Earlier this month, I met with some of the survivors and heard their stories.

While we can’t undo the years of suffering, we can make sure the Trinity downwinders receive recognition and compensation by adding them to the government’s Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECA). RECA was signed into law in 1990 to help some of the downwinders — including those who were made sick from bombs exploded at the Nevada Test Site, along with uranium miners and millworkers who were poisoned due to lack of protective workplace standards.

I’m working with a bipartisan group in the Senate to amend RECA to cover all of the victims, including those living in the Tularosa Basin and elsewhere in New Mexico, and others in Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Guam — where the government tested bombs in the Pacific.

Many of the downwinders in the Tularosa area continue to suffer. I shared powerful stories of Henry Herrera, Edna Hinkle, Margie Trujillo and several others in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor to mark the 70th anniversary of the Trinity test.

Compensation will make a difference and provide badly needed help, and I’m committed to continuing to fight for fairness. Passing this bill is the right thing to do, and I hope you’ll support the effort to finally find justice for Tularosa Basin downwinders and the surrounding community.

Tom Udall
United States Senator

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