Matheson seeks hearing for 'downwinders'

Matheson seeks hearing for 'downwinders'

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Press ReleaseWashington, D.C.—Congressman Jim Matheson has joined with two Idaho Congressman on a request for a Congressional hearing into whether a program designed to compensate cancer victims exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing should be expanded. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) currently covers only residents who lived in 21 counties, including 10 in Utah, that were "downwind" of the nuclear blasts detonated in the 1950s and 1960s.

Matheson and Idaho Representatives Walt Minnick and Mike Simpson sent their letter to the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.

"Eligibility for compensation is limited to certain counties in just a few states. These geographical boundaries are, quite frankly, arbitrary boundaries that do not account for the fact that radioactive fallout does not abide by lines on a map," the letter states.

Matheson said RECA was the federal government's acknowledgement that it deceived citizens about the potential harm from the weapons tests.

"The bombs were detonated when the winds blew east. People were told "there is no danger". But more than 4,500 Utahns who have been awarded compensation for cancer and other illnesses now know that their government lied," said Matheson.

To date, the Department of Justice has awarded compensation to more than 20,500 citizens nationally, including to uranium miners, millers and ore-haulers. In 2000 Congress chose to enhance the RECA program by adding additional categories of illnesses.

A study of the radioactive isotope Iodine-131—completed and released by the National Institutes of Health in 1997—showed the largest concentration of fallout occurred in U.S. counties not included in the program.

"However, we believe that since RECA has not received serious review by the Congress in the past seven years, now is an appropriate time for the Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing in this important federal law," the letter states.

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