Matheson seeks to triple awards for downwinders

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 11:57 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is among a bipartisan group of congressmen pushing for expanded benefits and increased compensation for radiation victims of atomic testing during the Cold War era.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which will be introduced this week, would expand downwind areas to include all of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and Montana for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the "Trinity" Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.

Matheson — who has said his father, the late Gov. Scott Matheson, died of cancer caused by nuclear testing — is a co-sponsor of the House bill. "Evidence compiled over the last 14 years points to the likelihood that there are even more victims in Utah and other states than are already acknowledged under current law," Matheson said.

"This bill builds upon RECA by expanding and equalizing compensation to downwinders, uranium miners, millers and ore haulers whose health was sacrificed in the rush to build bombs and win the Cold War."

It was several years ago that Matheson requested additional information be compiled on cancer rates in Utah, looking at county-by-county data from 1973 to 2001.

Information that was compiled by the National Cancer Institute showed for a 30-year period, there was an 8 percent higher rate of radiation-associated cancers throughout the rest of the state than in counties where residents receive compensation. Research done by the Deseret News years ago found secret government maps depicting fallout that had hit most of Utah, not just counties eligible for compensation.

Under current law, residents of 10 Utah counties who suffer from 18 types of radiation-associated cancer are eligible to apply for payments, usually $50,000.

Under HR 1490, or the RECA Amendments of 2011, eligible claimants could tap $150,000 each in compensation, whether they are miners, milers, ore transporters, on-site employees or downwinders. Additionally, medical benefits would be expanded to all claimants, instead of just miners, millers and ore transporters. The amendments would also add renal cancer or any chronic renal disease coverage to miners, which are not covered at present.

The amendments authorize $3 million for five years to fund epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers.

A similar measure was introduced about a year ago in Congress by a coalition of Senate delegations from New Mexico, Idaho, and Colorado.

It was opposed at the time by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said he felt the measure was overly broad and too expensive.

Hatch was the co-author of the original 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Email: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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