Monday 24 April 2017

First atom bomb test left legacy of cancer and poverty - families

An aerial view of the first atomic explosion at the Trinity Test site in New Mexico in 1945 (AP)
An aerial view of the first atomic explosion at the Trinity Test site in New Mexico in 1945 (AP)

The world's first atomic bomb test caused generations of southern New Mexico families to suffer from cancer and economic hardship, according to surveys gathered by an advocacy group seeking compensation for their descendants.

The surveys tell people's stories from areas around the 1945 Trinity Test and argue that many Hispanic families later struggled to keep up with cancer-related illnesses.

The health effects of the test have long been debated in New Mexico.

"It's the first ever study done on the Tularosa Downwinders," said Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

"We wanted people to tell their stories in the fashion because it's never been done before."

Members of the consortium have long atgued that those living near the site of the world's first atomic bomb test in 1945 were not told about the dangers, or compensated for their resulting health problems.

Since then they say, descendants have been plagued with cancer and other illnesses while the US government ignored their plight.

Chuck Wiggins, director of the New Mexico Tumour Registry, has said data shows cancer rates in Tularosa are around the same as other parts of the state.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death all over New Mexico, he said.

On Friday, Mr Wiggins said he had not yet gone through the report.

"It is detailed and lengthy," he said. "I have not had a chance to systematically review the entire document."

Around 800 community health surveys and two community focus groups were used to collect data for the report in conjunction with the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Ms Cordova said the report was not a scientific epidemiology study but an attempt to gather information from residents who have complained about various forms of cancers in families who had limited access to health insurance.

The surveys involved residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa and four New Mexico counties.

They want politicians to include New Mexico in a law that compensates residents near atomic tests.

The Trinity Test took place as part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret wartime nuclear development programme run out of the then-secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Residents did not learn that the test had involved an atomic weapon until the US dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended.

In 2015 New Mexico Democratic senator Tom Udall pressed the upper house to include state residents in the law after meeting Tularosa Downwinders.

"The Consortium's Health Impact Assessment Report is important work," he said in a letter to the group on Friday.

"It adds to the body of evidence that people in this area were injured as a result of radioactive fallout and should be compensated by the federal government."

AP

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