The explosion was seen nearly 200 miles away, the shock waves felt practically 100 miles away, and 70 years later, America’s first atomic bomb test – code-named Trinity – still reverberates in the tiny towns and secluded hamlets that ring the edges of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico…
New Mexicans and their families who lived downwind of the Trinity fallout zone say the U.S. government should be held accountable for poor health, high rates of cancer, and early death like downwinders at other nuclear sites in Utah, Nevada and Arizona. However, with little to no medical proof definitively linking their illnesses and the blast, a rapidly aging and dying population, and little support from Congress, the hope for compensation, or even an apology, may take another generation to materialize.
Their story began…70 years ago. On the early morning of July 16, 1945, there was a bright flash and massive explosion at the Alamagordo Air Base at White Sands. The first test of an atomic weapon had occurred. However, officials were quick to cover up what had happened. The Associated Press reported that “a remotely located ammunition magazine containing a considerable amount of high explosives and pyrotechnics exploded.”
The AP also reported that “weather conditions affecting the content of the gas shells exploded by the blast may make it desirable for the Army to temporarily evacuate a few civilians from their homes.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control report, those civilians were never warned nor evacuated. Many locals reported “a white substance like flour” that fell for days. The night after the test, it rained; the water was collected in cisterns by locals and consumed later on.
“There have been plenty of people who’ve said: ‘why didn’t you move away?’” said Tina Cordova, a cofounder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. “We didn’t know, first of all, we were at risk of anything. And by the time we knew were all so overexposed.”
Cordova is recovering from thyroid cancer and says her father passed away nearly two years ago after a long cancer battle that ended with heavy facial surgery…
Cordova has been conducting surveys and compiling the medical histories of every downwinder she can find. The file is huge…
Under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1990, uranium mill workers, miners, transporters, and on-site workers in states across the West are all eligible for compensation. In Nevada, Utah and Arizona, downwinders and on-site workers at nuclear test sites — including those working at White Sands Missile Range — are also eligible. However, New Mexican downwinders are not covered. They hope New Mexico Senator Tom Udall will make it right.
“New Mexicans have been left out for a long time,” Udall said. “We hope there will be a situation where justice comes to this case and people be compensated and they will get that apology from the United States of America.”
Sometimes I have to wonder why our government, especially military types, beancounters in Congress, take pride in being such miserable, low-life human beings. We are the wealthiest nation on Earth. Our government will drop billions on some of the most useless, backwards hardware, politics, agencies and other foolishness. But, when it comes it compensating ordinary folks who “probably” had their lives ruined by criminal behavior by official decisions – perish the thought we give someone the benefit of the doubt.
Contemptible behavior. Disgusting. Another example to the rest of the world how little this powerful nation actually cares about our own citizens – much less the population of workers and farmers, citizens of this planet outside our borders.
Most folks in New Mexico who study history beyond batting averages for the Albuquerque Isotopes know this story. RTFA for tales of just a few of the individuals and families destroyed by the side effects of that test.
UPDATE: NM Senator Tom Udall is battling with Senate blivets and backwards chickenhawks to aid Tularosa downwinders.