Relatives of Utahns who died of cancer that is now blamed on fallout said Friday that it's about time the government admitted its mistakes.
But a Cedar City sheep-ranching couple who were wiped out financially when fallout killed their herd in 1952 are discouraged that they and other stock operations aren't covered by the compensation bill."I hope it helps people," Lorna Bruhn of St. George said of the fallout compensation bill. "I hope it stops any more testing. That's all I care about."
Her husband, Arthur F. Bruhn, a former president of Dixie College in St. George, died of leukemia. In 1984, U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins in Salt Lake City ruled that Bruhn and nine other victims deserved compensation for government negligence.
Jenkins was later overturned by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appeals court was upheld by the Supreme Court. The basis was a technicality: The government cannot be sued for actions taken in the name of national security, as the atomic bomb program was.
Bruhn said she wants to thank the people who cared about the victims during the many years that the fallout controversy has taken. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, sponsors of the bill, "have done it from their heart. They have tried to help people. I know that," she said.
She believes the bill's apology to fallout victims is appropriate.
The Bruhns' daughter, teacher Elizabeth Wright, Salt Lake City, said her reaction is "wait and see."
She tells her students that when you make an apology, it should mean you're not going to do it again. She is suspicious of some parts of the government, but "I really appreciate what Congress is trying to do. I really appreciate what they're saying."
"I kind of feel like everybody else does," said Charlotte Gleave of Kingston, Piute County. "They owe people an apology for doing what they did."
Her mother, Donna Jean Berry, lived in Cedar City and died of uterine cancer. Gleave blames the open-air nuclear testing that dumped radioactive dust on southern Utah throughout the 1950s and early '60s.
Residents used to watch the mushroom clouds move toward Utah from the Nevada Test Site where tests were carried out, she said. "Our neighbor over in Cedar (City) said that within a four-block area of where we lived, there were like 20 people that had died of cancer."
Elmer Pickett's wife, Ciola, used to work in their garden in St. George and spent a great deal of time outdoors. "She got pretty well dosed, I imagine, whereas I was in the store; I didn't get dosed that much."
Ciola Pickett died of leukemia in 1960. Although Pickett is one of those who filed suit against the government in the 1970s, his case wasn't chosen for trial. But Jenkins ruled that leukemia was one of the categories of cancer that were caused by fallout.
"Going on past history, I'm not holding my breath yet," he said of the bill. "It is certainly some progress."
Pickett recalled that local residents all went outside to watch the flash in the sky on early mornings when the Atomic Energy Commission set off bombs at the test site.
The dust would flow right over the area. "That's what the fallout was. That was the residue from the blast. They'd never run the test unless the wind was coming in our direction."
Steve Erickson, a Salt Lake resident who is a spokesman for the anti-nuclear testing group Downwinders, said people feel good about the apology and the acknowledgment of injustice. "The last measure of justice would be to close that test site down through a comprehensive test ban treaty."
Kern and Vera Bulloch, a Cedar City ranching couple whose herd was wiped out during the 1952 series of tests, are discouraged about their battles for compensation.
The government fought hard against a suit several Cedar City stock operations filed in the 1950s, winning in court. Then in the 1970s, A. Sherman Christensen, the judge who heard the original trial, ruled that the government had defrauded the court in the earlier trial and reopened the case.
However, he was overturned by the appeals court.
"I'm really glad for them (the cancer victims) getting that," Bulloch said of the bill. "But I sure think the stockmen got a heck of a sorry deal on that."