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Downwinders seek support

St. George Spectrum

ST. GEORGE - A group of local Downwinders had plenty of questions Thursday during a discussion with medical experts and Rep. Jim Matheson in St. George.

The Downwinders, a group of people who were exposed to radiation from atomic testing and nuclear fallout during the 1950s and '60s, had an assortment of concerns, and the discussion was emotional at times when people shared their stories.
Jim Coleman, of St. George, had a mother and sister who suffered from cancer, and said he could remember being "paraded out to school grounds to see the blasts," when growing up.

Coleman said Thursday's meeting, which included a presentation on a free cancer screening program offered to potential Downwinders, was a good chance for people to learn more about a topic that has impacted many in Southern Utah.

"I think it's important for the issues to be out there for the public," he said.

Oncology specialists with Dixie Regional Medical Center presented on the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP), which offers free cancer screenings in St. George and along the Wasatch Front. Later this year clinics are planned in Fillmore and Richfield as doctors try to reach possible Downwinders in the middle of the state, said Becky Barlow, project director.

Becky said the local RESEP, started in 2004, has done more than 3,000 screenings, and helped nearly 400 people get compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

A proposed expansion of RECA came up often, as several in attendance said they had suffered health problems they thought to be associated with the fallout, but which wasn't covered under the law.

Evan Ludwig, Cedar City, lived in Leeds while the tests were going on, and had his thyroid removed in a precancerous surgery Ð a situation not covered under RECA or the proposed expansion

"I'm sure there are many, many others," Ludwig said after the meeting.

Matheson, who introduced the bill in the U.S. House, has long been an advocate for Downwinders. His father Scott Matheson, Utah's former governor, died of a rare form of cancer suspected to be fallout-related.

"It's not a unique story," he said. "This has touched so many people in Southern Utah."

Years of research and improved data accumulated since RECA was first written show that the fallout reached a wider geographical area than just the arbitrary boundaries of 22 counties, Matheson said.

Matheson faces a challenge this year for the 2nd District seat from Republican Morgan Philpot, Constitution Party candidate Randall Hinton and independents Dave Glissmeyer and Wayne Hill.

Philpot said he supports the RECA expansion and any other efforts to help Downwinders.

"I'm not an advocate for nuclear testing, and I think we should do everything we can to compensate people," he said.

"I think we owe it to them," he added.