Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall honored New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin downwinders during a speech on the Senate floor for the 70th anniversary of the Trinity test. Trinity is the codename for the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, which occurred in Southern New Mexico at what was then called White Sands Proving Ground. Many residents living downwind of the test have since suffered from cancer and other health issues due to radiation exposure. Udall is working to ensure the government recognizes their sacrifice and adds them to a compensation program for victims of nuclear bomb testing and manufacturing, and as a part of that effort, he is asking the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing.
Udall met with many of the downwinders and their families in Tularosa, N.M., earlier this month, and he shared some of their stories of loss and illness in his speech, including those of Henry Herrera, Edna Hinkle, Margie Trujillo, Virginia Duran and Nora Foltz. Many community members have lost friends and family members from cancer, or suffered severe illnesses themselves.
“As Gloria Herrera said, the Tularosa community has ‘shed enough tears to fill a lake,'” Udall recalled in his speech. “Mr. President, it was my privilege to meet with survivors. Their stories are courageous and troubling, but most troubling of all is the people who were not there – who were not able to speak, who have passed away over the past seven decades. We all speak for them now, and we will keep on speaking until justice is done.”
Udall acknowledged the critical work of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, a group dedicated to compiling and sharing data and stories of Tularosa community members diagnosed with cancer and to pushing the federal government to recognize and compensate those affected by the blast. In his speech, Udall called on his colleagues to pass his bill to expand the states covered by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). Udall’s father represented groups of downwinders in court cases for many years, and Udall has worked in Congress to expand RECA to include the Tularosa downwinders and other groups of victims left out of the original 1990 legislation.
“Theirs is a tragic story,” Udall continued. “They suffered so that we could develop bombs and win wars. That’s why I have again pushed for legislation with my colleague, Senator Crapo and several others, to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to finally recognize the Trinity site and to include New Mexicans who have suffered for decades. They deserve justice. They deserve compensation and they are still waiting. Seventy years later, still waiting. We can’t change the past. We can’t erase the years of illness, the years of pain endured by too many and for too long. But fair compensation will make a difference and provide badly needed help.”
The Tularosa Basin Downwinders will hold a candlelight vigil this weekend to remember those who have passed away due to cancer and other radiation-related diseases. Udall concluded his speech, “Together, we will keep working for fairness. And the day will come – when we can stand together in Tularosa. When we can light candles of remembrance. And when we can finally say that justice has been done.”