Honor downwinders and uranium workers and millers…
Mar 01, 2012
The Moab Times Independent
I think there was some confusion about the proposal at last weeks Grand County Council meeting regarding support for a resolution regarding support for “downwinders” – the name given to those who were exposed to radiation from atomic testing – and uranium workers who were exposed to radiation because of the U.S. atomic weapons program. The proposed resolution called for the council to join with the U.S. Senate by commemorating the sacrifices of downwinders, miners, and millers; urging the expansion of the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include downwinders in all Utah counties, and joining the Utah House of Representatives in urging the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
During the council discussion, a council member had a problem including uranium miners and millers. It was unclear to me whether the belief being expressed was that the miners or millers should not be included in the commemoration or in revisions to RECA.
Uranium miners and millers should be commemorated along with downwinders. Although they “chose” to be employed, they were unnecessarily exposed to radioactive contaminants while producing uranium ore and yellowcake for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its weapons program. The federal government was indifferent, dishonest, and incompetent – purposefully keeping information about the true nature of hazards of uranium from workers, worker families, and communities. The AEC licensed both mines and mills, but did not educate the operators and workers and did not require adequate protective measures.
In 2011, a bi-partisan group introduced the RECA Amendment Act of 2011. This bill would expand coverage to downwinders and uanium workers. The bill would:
1. Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971;
2. Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently includes only miners, millers and ore transporters;
3. Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills;
4. Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation;
5. Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders;
6. Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits;
7. Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean;
8. Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests;
9. Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site;
10. Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation;
11. Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers, by allocating the funds to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research;
12. Allow the miners, millers, core drillers, and ore transporters to file a special exposure cohort petition within the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
The council should support the RECA Amendments and honor the downwinders and uranium workers without reservation.
Sarah Fields is a longtime Moab resident and the program director of Uranium Watch. She has been working for almost 10 years on issues related to the environmental impacts associated with current and historical uranium milling in Utah.
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