As seen in media accounts posted onto Downwinders onelist, the Hanford offsite exposure health hearings were held the last week of January in Kennewick, Washington. Almost 200 people were in attendance.
In spite of numerous requests, the Department of Energy has refused thusfar to hold site hearings (like the worker site hearings held over the last two years) on offsite exposures and health problems. This hearing was therefore convened by the Hanford Health Effects Subcommittee and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The verbatim transcript and videotape of the testimony made during this hearing provide clear evidence of significant health problems amongst offsite exposed populations, as requested by the DOE. To many, of course, provision of further evidence would seem unnecessary, as many family members of nuclear workers, who themselves suffer today from cancers, autoimmune thyroiditis, other autoimmune disorders, and other serious health problems, testified during the DOE site hearings on worker health problems held over the past two years. This evidence of offsite exposure health problems, and serious health problems amongst Nevada Test site exposed populations who are not currently eligible for any kind of help within the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) is already out there. Why are we asked by the DOE for even further evidence to be provided?
We want to be clear that we are very supportive of compensation and health care for those within the DOE nuclear complex who have developed cancers and other serious health problems which are more likely than not caused by their exposures on site. But, there are those exposed outside the site fenceline who have developed the same cancers and other health problems as have developed in workers, and who have been subjected to the same exposure health risk as workers.
If these individuals were nuclear workers, rather than offsite exposed persons, they would be eligible under the new DOE compensation and health care initiative. To deprive these eligible individuals of government help based on the fact that they were exposed outside rather than inside the site fenceline is not only illogical but entirely unjust.
EQUAL EXPOSURE HEALTH RISK, UNEQUAL TREATMENT
THE TEST CASE: The only radionuclide for which “official” reconstructed doses have been provided by the government, is radioiodine, or I-131. Currently, estimated, reconstructed I-131 doses are available for those exposed to Hanford nuclear reservation historic offsite airborne releases, for Nevada Test Site atomic test fallout releases, and for Oak Ridge offsite plus Nevada Test Site I-131 releases, combined.
It is for this reason, that radioiodine logically serves as the test case for inclusion within the DOE health care and compensation initiative, of offsite exposed persons who qualify within the eligibility criteria defined for that initiative.
DOWNWINDERS MEET ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
Under the DOE nuclear worker compensation and health care initiative, the exposure to the worker in question must fall within guidelines for determining whether the worker’s cancer was at least “as likely as not” to have been caused by his or her exposure on the job.
The determination of exposure dose received for workers provides workers with a range of possible doses, when worker exposure records are not available. Eligibility under the new law requires that the specified cancer be “at least as likely as not” related to exposure on the job. This is based upon a reconstructed radiation dose at the upper 99% confidence limit of the estimate of probability of causation in the published radioepidemiological tables. Probability of causation refers to the probability that an exposure resulted in the cancer or other health outcome that a person now has.
Where is the logic or the justice in depriving involuntarily exposed members of offsite populations (which includes, of course, those exposed to Nevada Test Site fallout, which contained I-131 as well as a range of other biologically significant radionuclides) of this compensation or health care if certain offsite exposed persons (“downwinders”) have cancers or any other health problems which are within the recognized list of health problems of the DOE nuclear worker initiative, and if these individuals also have reconstructed doses which, when translated to probability of causation, would qualify them for compensation and health care if these individuals were nuclear workers?
These were involuntary exposures. These were very often childhood exposures. These infants and children were exposed before they even had a chance to say NO.
People who were children in the l950s and l960s were exposed involuntarily to several significant sources of I-131:
l. Nevada Test Site: (1951-1957) released 150 million curies of I-131, along with a range of other biologically significant radionuclides.
2. Marshall Islands (l952-1958) thermonuclear tests released 8 billion curies of I-131.
3. Former USSR- ( 1958-62) thermonuclear tests released 12 billion curies of I-131, much of which deposited globally.
These doses must be added together, each within an uncertainty range, in order to obtain a person’s total exposure dose, for a particular radionuclide (in this test case, I-131). It is well known that one predictor of radiogenic thyroid disease is the size of the thyroid as vs the size of the dose. A baby’s or child’s tiny thyroid absorbs virtually all of the radioiodine over its decay time, delivering therefore a dose twenty times the dose to an adult thyroid.
Note that radioiodine is only one of a range of biologically significant radionuclides released from local DOE sites, released within Nevada Test Site fallout, from Marshall Islands tests, and from tests in the former Soviet Union. All of these sources contributed to the overall dose, and exposure health risk to which people were involuntarily subjected.
Thusfar, only one radionuclide, I-131, has been addressed by our government. There is significant danger than, unless the public loudly and repeatedly demands that the other biologically significant radionuclides be addressed as well, through government funded provision of estimated, added doses and health risk from exposure to these other radionuclides, that I-131 is the only radionuclide for which we will EVER have any sort of dose information. Dose information is required before dose can be translated into probability of causation for offsite populations who have existing potentially radiogenic disease. If only I-131 doses are provided (at the present time, Marshall Island and former USSR I-131 fallout doses have NOT been provided), those exposed offsite will forever be kept from the knowledge of their true exposures, and from knowing how those exposures may have damaged their health. Why should workers be given this information, and helped by our government, while their children, friends and neighbors who were subjected to the same exposure health risk, are left out in the cold?
ALERTING CONGRESS, THE MEDIA, AND THE PUBLIC
We must alert the media, Members of Congress, and others concerned with the welfare of people whose lives have been damaged by the legacy of bomb production and testing in this country, to the need to include offsite exposed people who meet the eligibility criteria for exposed workers within the DOE nuclear workers compensation and health care initiative, to the importance of providing these offsite exposed individuals (including Nevada Test Site exposed) with the health care and government funded help they need and deserve.
These individuals exposed outside the fenceline have sacrificed and suffered for our country no less than those who were exposed within the fenceline.
Daughter of Hanford nuclear workers