One group of Idahoans who have clear evidence they received high doses of radiation are residents of Gem, Blaine, Custer and Lemhi counties in the 1950s and ’60s.
In 1997, the National Cancer Institute released a study estimating fallout from iodine-131 in the Lower 48 states. The report said those Idaho counties all ranked in the top five in the Lower 48 states for per-capita thyroid dosage from bomb-related radiation.
A compensation fund for victims has paid out $923 million to more than 23,000 claimants since it was established 25 years ago for downwinders in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. But Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, author of the law, has resisted expanding the pool of claimants.
We Idaho downwinders don’t even matter.
Tona Henderson, Emmett resident
Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo has worked to expand the law’s “compassionate” payments to downwinders beyond 21 counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona since 2005. Crapo got involved after Idahoans who believed they were sickened by radiation convinced the National Academy of Sciences to hold a hearing in Boise.
He and a bipartisan coalition of five U.S. senators from Idaho, New Mexico and Colorado have asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on a bill. The Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act of 2015, introduced by Crapo and fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, along with Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, would extend benefits under the law to victims who can demonstrate health issues related to the weapons testing.
Few expect the hearing.
“Its exasperating,” said Tona Henderson, a downwinder from Emmett. “We pretty much came to a stalemate.”
Ever since the issue first gained attention in 2004, Henderson has been keeping track of her neighbors, friends and family who have gotten cancer or died.
“I’m over 1,000 people now,” she said. “We’re a community (in Gem County) of 16,000 people.”