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County commemorates downwinders and uranium workers

The Moab Times Independent

 Miners, millers and haulers living in Grand County and negatively affected by Nevada nuclear weapons testing between 1951 and 1962 were added to a Grand County Council resolution marking Jan. 27 as a day of commemoration for downwinders affected by the testing. 

On Feb. 21, the council discussed the resolution, which seeks to show support for those affected individuals, and calls for federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) compensation for Grand County residents living during that time period. The resolution also urges the U.S. Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to eliminate further nuclear weapons testing initiatives. 

Council member Audrey Graham urged the council to include Grand County miners, millers, and haulers in the resolution because of the service those workers provided during the testing years. 

“This is really about showing support for all the people affected negatively from the nuclear testing and to educate the public that this testing happened and has caused negative health impacts for Grand County residents,” Graham said after the meeting.

The resolution also called for downwinders in Grand County to be compensated under RECA for the negative impacts to their health. According to Graham, a downwinder is anyone who was living in an area affected by the nuclear weapons testing. So far, only a few counties in Utah have received compensation despite a 2001 resolution passed by the Utah Legislature to include all Utah counties in the RECA program. 

The question of whether miners, millers, and haulers should also be included in the RECA program arose during the first council discussion, but council members decided not to include them in the request for compensation because those workers should already be covered, according to Graham. 

However, Sarah Fields, a member of the local group Uranium Watch, told the council that miners, millers, and haulers should be included in the compensation and said some of them have not been able to receive any funds. 

“They were not informed of the radioactive hazards or protected from the hazards. Many had health problems, and many who have health problems have not been covered under the RECA because they didn’t have the right number of hours, they couldn’t prove something, and some of the mines were so small, they didn’t have a good record of employment history or exposures,” Fields said. “I believe they should be honored and I believe the county should support the amendments to the RECA program to include the uranium workers.”

Another local citizen said her father has suffered health problems due to working at the Atlas Uranium Mill. She said he struggles to breathe and “carry a sentence” because of all the particles he inhaled while working at the site. 

“I want to make it clear that the RECA program is still going. I’m not against recognizing what the people did at the uranium mine,” council chairman Gene Ciarus said. “It’s not that it’s not honoring them, but they [the Legislature] are trying to increase the area of the downwinders covered. [The resolution] in no way will affect the millers and miners.” 

The final resolution that was unanimously passed commemorates the miners, millers, and haulers along with downwinders, calls for the federal government to include Grand County citizens and other counties across the state under the RECA program, and supports congressional ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty. 

Ciarus said anyone desiring information about the RECA program should contact him through the county office at 435-259-1342.