The Manhattan Project

Trisha Pritikin's Interview

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Trisha Pritikin's Interview

Trisha Pritikin was born and lived ten years in Richland, Washington, just a few miles away from the Hanford Site. Her father worked in the 100 Area at Hanford, overseeing some of the reactors, while her mom worked as a secretary at Hanford. In her interview, Pritikin recalls her love of Richland at a young age and describes the happiness of many of the people there. At age 18, she began to develop health complications which she believes to be caused by childhood exposure to radioactive iodine and other radionuclides released from chemical separations at Hanford. Pritikin discusses how drastically her health situation deteriorated because of an undiagnosed autoimmune thyroid disorder (Hashimoto’s disease), and related health issues, and how she became a lawyer in spite of the disabling health issues she faced. She provides an overview of the decades-long Hanford Downwinder litigation efforts and her advocacy for justice for Hanford's Downwinders, the children of Hanford workers, and others exposed to Hanford’s airborne and Columbia River radiation releases.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
May 15, 2018
Location of the Interview: 
Berkeley
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is May 15, 2018, and I’m at the University of California, Berkeley. I have with me Trisha Pritikin, and I first want to ask her to say her name and spell it.

Trisha Pritikin: Okay. Trisha Pritikin is T-r-i-s-h-a, Pritikin is P-r-i-t-i-k-i-n.

I was born and raised in Richland, Washington, the town closest to the Hanford nuclear weapons facility. I was born in late 1950, which is during the period of time –– the four decades –– of plutonium production at the facility. That’s relevant to the health issues that I will discuss later.

My dad worked in the 100 Area, which had, at the time, five production reactors, which was expanded over the years to the early ‘60s to nine production reactors. He oversaw the function of the reactions. He was a Cal Berkeley graduate and MIT graduate. My mom worked in stores, which is basically, as I understand it, a secretarial kind of service at Hanford. When she got pregnant with me, after losing a baby before me, she decided not to work there anymore, in case. She stopped working there when she was pregnant with me.

I was born at Kadlec Hospital. As I grew up, I loved Richland, because the Atomic Energy Commission put a lot of money into making everybody in Richland, all the families, happy. There were cultural events. The schools were really good. I remember having teachers who had Tennessee accents, because of lot of them had come from Oak Ridge to Richland. They interchanged between the Manhattan Project sites.

I remember great art classes, everything, I loved it. It seemed like a perfectly normal town to me. Picket fences. We lived in an F house, which was one of the alphabet houses. Alphabet houses in Richland now are preserved with little signs in front of them, and you can take a historic tour of the alphabet houses. Mine was an F house, which is basically a two-story box, but it seemed real big to me when I was little. I went to Sacagawea Elementary School.

That was the happy part of childhood. We moved away from Richland, in 1960, when my dad was transferred with GE [General Electric] to San Jose, and then overseas. A lot of the nuclear projects were being cancelled in the United States by that time, and there were more reactors being built overseas.

We were sent to Spain. We lived in Madrid, and then he helped to construct a reactor up in the tiny town of Vitoria up in the north of Spain. I loved that time. It was under Franco. It was a very amazing place to live under Francisco Franco, a dictatorship. They the Guardia Civil, with guns on tops of building. As a young person, it was an amazing experience, coming from the United States to live in a place like that.

After that, I came back. I started to have health issues at around age eighteen, and we didn’t know what was wrong. I started to have my weight fluctuate from high to low, without any changes in my diet. I would become overweight, and then underweight. I was sick, my stomach was upset, and my hair became brittle. My periods stopped, which is very upsetting to the Spanish culture to have a young girl’s period stop. I was sent to a Spanish doctor, who couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Finally, they sent me back to the United States for healthcare while my family stayed in Spain. I went to my grandmother’s house in Spokane, where she lived. I cannot recall exactly what happened healthcare-wise. Eventually my period started up, but I was becoming tired.

This was about eight years after the end of exposures at Hanford. What I mean by that is, over the time I lived there in Richland –– actually, beginning in the late 1940s — Hanford began to release from chemical separations facilities on the site the byproducts of plutonium production, into the air and the water, without letting anyone know they were doing that.

People downwind, people in Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, which were the three cities next to Hanford, and people through a vast downwind area were exposed to airborne radioactive particles. The communities down the Columbia River also got a lot of radiation from the stuff dumped into the Columbia River, which went all the way down to the mouth of the Columbia in the Pacific.

The exposures to children were primarily, but not exclusively, through the milk pathway. When babies were fed milk or milk products, or infants had dairy products, radioiodine was contained in those products. It had come out of the chemical separations areas, gone into the air—this is I-131 primarily, but also some of the other radionuclides of radioiodine—and it deposited on the pasture grass, and the cows and goats consumed it, and it made its way into the milk supply. That was one of the primary exposure routes for a lot of the people there in the Tri-Cities and downwind.

That milk pathway was actually known much earlier than scientists admitted it was known. There’s a report by Jim Thomas, who’s a researcher who worked on Hanford-related issues, that show that the milk pathway had been understood in the late 1940s. You have to ask yourself why the scientists were taking such a risk with the population, particularly the children, who are much more susceptible to the effects of radiation.

What I was starting to experience when I was eighteen was the results of those early exposures. My thyroid was shutting down. That’s why my weight was going up and down, and my hair was becoming kinky and not kinky. Then I felt sick, and I started to get tired. That’s a latency period that happens before you feel these effects of exposure. The latency period for me had been from age ten to about eighteen. So eight years after the end of my exposures, I started to get sick. But nobody knew why I was getting sick, because there wasn’t any information about what had happened at Hanford, until 1986. This was about 1968, so no one had any idea what was wrong with me.

I suffered a great deal, and kept getting sicker and sicker. I went to the University of Washington after first going to Whitman College in Walla Walla, and then to a school in Switzerland for a year. I was still not real sick, but not real well, but still functioning. I went to the University of Washington, and in my second year, I developed cat-scratch fever, which is very rare. It makes you very sick. I had a big tumor on my neck, and when I went to the health clinic, they said that it’s only in people with damaged immune systems that they see this disease, because most people can resist it. Can’t figure out where I got it. Took me months to get over it.

Eventually, I recovered, but I was getting tireder and tireder and starting to have muscle contractions. I’d be jogging to try to get off the extra weight I was gaining from who knows where. I had no idea why I was gaining weight. I’d be jogging and suddenly, my muscles would contract, like a tetany.

All these bizarre things were happening. The health center didn’t have any idea what was wrong, because we still didn’t know about the Hanford releases, had no idea. I was cutting back on my work. I graduated in occupational therapy from the University of Washington, and I was getting tireder and tireder. I thought, “I’ll just take a part-time job as an OT, an occupational therapist.” I started working with kids with disabilities in the courts, as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. I realized it would be something I’d really like to do, to work with kids with disabilities and people with disabilities.

I applied to law school, and I was accepted into Hastings here in San Francisco. I started there, and I did okay. I was still tired, but I pushed myself really hard and I loved what I was studying. In the second year of law school, I was interning for NASA, NASA Ames [Research Center], on a special project to put people with disabilities into space, on the space shuttle missions. I loved this project, it was so awesome. I was writing a law review article for it. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling really good, I really wasn’t. I was tired.

I was talking to the general counsel of Ames in our weekly meeting. I was a law clerk, and we had a meeting every week. I suddenly collapsed on the floor. It felt like a heart attack. It was just so painful, I just collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t breathe. I had terrible chest pain. They called the ambulance, and hauled me to the hospital.

The results came back negative for a heart attack, but they thought my esophagus might have contracted, which is very unusual. The theory now is that it was because my thyroid, which had autoimmune thyroiditis, so an autoimmune process in the thyroid, was right next to the esophagus. It had irritated the esophagus and caused this contraction. It was so painful that I had to not go to law school classes for a while, and I was just in misery.

From then, it just went downhill. I had headaches, terrible headaches. Everything started falling apart, as if I’d reached a tipping point. I had horrible headaches. I went through ups and downs of autoimmune thyroiditis, which means you can go through hyperthyroidism and then hypo, then hyper, then hypo, until your thyroid finally just dies. Apparently, the I-131 had killed the thyroid through an autoimmune process.

I’d get panic attacks sitting in class, and I’d start sweating. This is typical of hyperthyroidism. I’d start sweating and shaking, and I wouldn’t know what was wrong with me. I’d have to go out of the class, which means I had to miss part of the lecture, and get up, and the professor would be looking at me, “What’s wrong with you?” Then this terrible pressure in my head.

I went to a couple of physicians and the law school medical clinic, and no one knew what was wrong with me. They tested me for diabetes and some other things—lupus, MS [multiple sclerosis], nothing. Because we still didn’t know what had happened at Hanford. Had the Department of Energy released this information earlier, it would have certainly helped a lot of us.

I was getting sicker and sicker. But I’m very determined as an individual, and I wasn’t about to quit law school. I kept going. I reduced my course load a little, and took class in the summer. I made it through –– hard to believe at this point –– but I did make it through, even though my memory had been impaired as well. I can’t remember the term for it, but if you look up people who are supremely hypothyroid have some memory issues. I couldn’t remember certain things, so it made it doubly hard, because you have to remember a lot in law school. You just have to remember voluminous amounts.

I made it through there, and then I got married to another student at Hastings, who I’m still married to. I love him dearly, and he’s just my best friend. We tried to have children, but I wasn’t able to, something was wrong. I didn’t know what to do. I was pretty darn sick by then also, really tired and very skinny. I just shrank down to 115 pounds, which is maybe ten pounds below where I should be, and weak.

His father, who is Nathan Pritikin, the diet guy—you ever heard of Nathan Pritikin? That’s my husband’s dad. He was trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. He likes medical mysteries and such. He was sick at the same time, himself, with chronic leukemia, so he wasn’t able to help me. He actually died before we figured out what was wrong. 

I went to Spokane in 1988. I got married in ’85, we tried for three years to get pregnant, couldn’t do it. Went to visit my grandmother in Spokane in ’88, and happened to read an article by Karen Dorn Steele, who was a reporter for the Spokesman Review, who reported on the Downwinders issues. She kind of broke the story on the offsite releases from Hanford, after the 1986 release of all the documents for DOE [Department of Energy].

I saw this article saying that iodine-131 had been released downwind in the 1940s. I felt terrible when I read it, but then I felt great, because I was born in 1950. I thought, “Oh, I’m so glad that I escaped that.” I was to learn later that that was only one of the first discoveries within the 70,000 pages of documents released in ’86 by the Department of Energy. It turns out I was exposed to all kinds of stuff when I was little, and that was what was happening with me.

I took this article back to an infertility clinic here in California, and they realized they hadn’t tested me for the TSH [thyroid-stimulating hormones] levels appropriately. There’s a couple of tests they could do, and the one they did, did not reflect the fact that I was supremely hypothyroid. I went in to an endocrinologist, who said I should be in a coma by now, because I was so hypothyroid, and how was I functioning? I didn’t know how I was functioning, I think you’ve got to be really determined to be.

Nobody in California had really heard of Hanford—they still haven’t really heard of Hanford. She thought, “What is this place, Hanford, anyway?” I was put on synthetic thyroid hormone, which I have to take for the rest of my life. And the next month, I was pregnant.

Meantime, I went over to UCSF, the University of California San Francisco Medical Library, to look up whether somebody exposed to radioiodine can pass on issues to their kids. All there was there was the lifespan study, which used to be called the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission Study on survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It said, “Don’t worry, it’s okay.”

I’m like, “Okay, then I’m not going to worry about this pregnancy.” Went on to have a full-term pregnancy, which was great. My daughter’s twenty-eight now.

Then, I decided to organize a meeting here in California, the first one ever held for Hanford Downwinders, who might be here, because lot of people who used to live there have moved elsewhere. About 100 people came. It was a big meeting. John Gofman came, who is a really renowned scientist who’s now passed away, who used to work at Lawrence Livermore Lab and helped to extract the first plutonium here at Cal Berkeley. He came, and it was covered by the national media.

The stories of people who came were heartbreaking. One after the other, people would say something like my experience, or they’d say, “There’s this other cancer I have, in addition to thyroid cancer.” Or, “I have autoimmune problems, and I don’t know where they could have been caused by Hanford or not. Where can we get answers?”

Tom Foulds came out of his own pocket. We asked him to come. He is the attorney who represented a lot of the Downwinders, and he talked to us. It was the first time we had had anyone sympathetic listening to us. He told us about all the revelations of the 70,000 pages of documents released in 1986, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and public concern over Hanford. Later, many of us signed on to the litigation, Hanford litigation, and were represented by Tom. He was one of the first attorneys to file in that action.

Some people had leukemias, some people had thyroid cancer. There’s lymphomas, bladder cancer, breast cancers. We had a lot of different issues, but we didn’t have answers. As we went on to the litigation, there were 5,000 plaintiffs, originally. That’s more than there were in the Nevada Test Site litigation, which was [Irene H.] Allen v. U.S. This is In Re: Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litigation filed, I think, in 1991, the first cases. It was consolidated, and, eventually, the number of plaintiffs was reduced, because not everyone actually had a disease. They were just worried that they were going to get sick.

As the time went on, our attorneys realized that typical of these—they’re called “toxic tort cases.” They’re like torts, because it’s filed in torts under Price-Anderson Act, but they’re toxic torts because you’ve been exposed to something toxic, and then there’s a latency period, and then people get sick after a period of years. This was a huge toxic tort litigation.

As the time went on, the attorneys for the plaintiffs realized that they would need studies of other similarly exposed populations to help support what’s called “the causal link,” which means the fact that this radionuclide more probably than not caused the disease you now have. That’s the standard for toxic torts is “more probably than not,” or “more likely than not.”

They had to rely on the Chernobyl studies and the Marshall Island studies. Chernobyl was an accident that occurred in’86, where there was a fire in one of the reactors at Chernobyl that let out a lot of radiation over Europe and much of the world, actually. They studied the populations there to see what the health effects were, and found a lot of thyroid disease and thyroid cancer and some leukemias. The Nevada Test Site exposed people to testing in ’51 through ’58. There are also some studies there. They relied on those studies and the Marshall Islands studies to try to establish our causal link.

The people with other cancers, where there weren’t studies looking at the link, couldn’t always support their cases. Because you have to have some backup studies in litigation to support them. Also people whose HEDR doses –– that’s the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction project –– reconstructed doses were too low to meet that more probable than not standard, had a really hard time with recovery.

This litigation was probably the longest, I think, toxic tort litigation in this country, around twenty-four years. There were bellwether cases in 2005, which were representative plaintiffs’ cases, with I believe it was three thyroid disease plaintiffs and three thyroid cancer plaintiffs, picked by both sides. It was like a joint decision who would be the representative plaintiffs.

None of the autoimmune thyroiditis people got any recovery. Of the thyroid cancer cases, two out of three got recovery. The third, who was actually dying of thyroid cancer at the time of the trial –– her first trial ended in a mistrial, meaning they just couldn’t decide as a jury. They had to do a retrial. Again, because her HEDR dose was too low, Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction dose, she didn’t get any recovery. It felt really unfair. There was a lot of debate about whether her Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction dose was accurate, whether they considered the raw milk she drank as a child, which has a lot more radioiodine than processed milk.

This was, I think, one of the first cases filed under Price-Anderson, using the public liability cause of action, which was created right before the case was filed. It’s a new way of suing if you’re an injured person. Because there are indemnification agreements for all the contractors that ran Hanford, or in all the other sites around the country. Which means if a company like DuPont or GE agree to run this very potentially hazardous site, where they’re producing one of the most dangerous substances known to man, plutonium, that they would be indemnified if anybody down the line sued for personal injury. They were indemnified by the U.S. government. Then they would run the plant under those indemnification agreements.

The reason that’s relevant is that in this litigation, the plaintiffs’ counsel—who only had a certain amount of funding, just whatever they could get—were facing $80 million worth of defense. Costs being poured into the defense for the contractors under indemnification agreements. It was called a “scorched-earth defense.” It was just all-out, “We’re going to defeat these Downwinders, no matter what.”

That defeats the intent of Price-Anderson. One of the intents of Price-Anderson was to provide compensation to people injured by nuclear sites like Hanford, when those cases merited compensation. Not to put the entire money of the Treasury, including the Downwinders’ own taxpayer dollars, into the defense against our own claims.

A lot of us feel that Price-Anderson needs to be amended to give an even playing field somehow. To provide funds for both sides, or to limit the amount of money that the defense puts, that the Treasury contributes, to the defense. Somehow, make it a more even playing field. Because our attorneys eventually just ran out of funds to continue the case. It caused, I feel, a premature settlement.

We’re not allowed to say how much we received in settlements, those of us who did. But it was not even enough to pay for prescription drugs, let alone surgery. I’ve had my thyroid removed when they found cancerous cells. My father died of thyroid cancer, and so they thought I was going to be next. When they found cancerous cells in a nodule on my thyroid, we had to have the thyroid removed. Not all of that was covered by insurance. My settlement did not cover that.

I have a lifetime of thyroid meds. The settlement didn’t cover that. I now have sometime called hypoparathyroidism, as a result of losing three out of four parathyroid glands when they removed my thyroid. That causes tetany and kidney failure, if I’m not careful. I’m monitored constantly for that.

There’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t even addressed in the litigation. A lot of people who got nothing. There was one fellow who called, me in tears. His mother died of leukemia. She lived on the Columbia River. She was a child then and a lot of stuff was in the river at the time. She got a recovery after death, but it was very small. it was very, very small.

The law needs to be amended to give a more even playing field. Another possibility for people exposed downwind and downriver of Hanford would be a retroactive compensation program that would actually give people exposed to either the river pathway or the air pathway, who developed the same cancers and other disease as are compensated for workers under the EEOICPA [the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act], the worker’s compensation law.

If a compensation program could be set up to give people who were kids when they were exposed, innocent kids, compensation for the same diseases they compensate workers for. It’s just logical to do that. If it could be retroactive, then the people that got nothing out of these twenty-four years of litigation could get something. They wouldn’t feel so negative about their government that they loved before. They used to be patriotic, and now they don’t know what to think. That’s one option, but that would require funding.

The other option is, you amend Price-Anderson to make the playing field a little more even. But that doesn’t help the Hanford Downwinders, because that litigation is over.

It left everybody with kind of a negative feeling, this whole experience of the litigation. We’re very thankful for the work of our attorneys, particularly Tom Foulds and Dick Eymann, who stuck with us. People would call their legal secretaries or them and just say, “Nobody cares about us,” and they would listen.

Kelly:  That was great. I just want to make sure I understand. The litigation lasted twenty-four years?

Pritikin: Yeah. The first cases were filed around ’91. If you compare our litigation, which was under Price-Anderson, to what happened with the Nevada Test Site exposed people. Their litigation lasted about, I think, five years, maybe eight at most. That was under the Federal Tort Claims Act, because they didn’t –– well, I don’t know exactly why there’s a difference. But I believe it’s because this new option of the public liability cause of action came up before we filed. We were the first to file under this new cause of action under Price-Anderson for Hanford. 

They only had one option. When an agent or person working for the federal government –– be it a post office employee or a person working in TSA –– does something negligently, you have no option but to sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act. That’s how you sue the government. So, that’s what that suit was filed under. It didn’t last anywhere near as long.

Judge [Bruce] Jenkins, who was the federal judge who heard that case, ruled in favor of some of the bellwether plaintiffs who had been exposed to atomic testing and had various cancers. There would have been some recovery. But, the case was overturned based on the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says, “If the action which is considered negligent was discretionary, then it can be exempt from this federal liability.” It was overturned on the discretionary function exception.

Had the Downwinders only had that option, I’m not sure any attorneys would have even wanted to handle our case. Because, that was a really well-reasoned decision. Those people that had been exposed, clearly, they were very ill, and the causal link had been established. Judge Jenkins ruled for them, then it was overturned on the discretionary function exception. If we’d had to sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act, I think we would have had the same problem. But I’m not convinced the public liability cause of action under Price-Anderson is all that much better, as far as the end result.

Anyway, it was a long thing. A lot of people died during the litigation, or gave up. One lady committed suicide, because she couldn’t wait any longer, left a note saying, “I can’t wait any longer. This litigation has gone way too long.” One of the Downwinders committed suicide.

That’s not justice. That’s not what Price-Anderson intended. They intended efficient compensation for those who merited compensation after exposure from a nuclear incident. Price-Anderson’s intent was not fulfilled by this litigation.

When the litigation was settled in 2015, I knew that if I didn’t act quickly, I wouldn’t be able to contact a lot of these plaintiffs because the records would be shredded. When the law offices were closing down, I approached two of the attorneys, Tom Foulds and Dick Eymann. I said, “Would it be possible for you to send a note to the plaintiffs who are settling and ask if they’d like to participate in a project where I interview, do an oral history?”

I got quite a few positive responses, and I interviewed twenty-four people who were plaintiffs. A couple of them were plaintiffs whose cases were dismissed, because their Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction doses were too low. Not everyone got anything out of the litigation. I have a couple of children of Downwinders, I have lots of people who were kids on the river, or living downwind across from the reactors.

I learned something from that, which was that a lot of these people, if they were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the ‘70s or fairly early, the treatment for thyroid cancer was harsh. They would open the neck up, remove the thyroid and then irradiate the area to get rid of the thyroid cancerThen irradiate again, so that some of these people ended up with ankylosing spondylitis, which is like a fusion of the vertebrae, and lost their voices. They can’t swallow. Their quality of life is horrible. I met some of those people. How do you compensate that? That’s terrible.

A lot of the people who did get at least small settlements in the litigation had other cancers, as well as thyroid cancer. They could only get compensation if they had thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules, or leukemias, if they lived on the river, and a couple of other cancers, which are river cancers. The other people didn’t get any compensation, because there was no way to establish the causal link between their disease and the radionuclides. A lot of them had other diseases, because if you get one disease, sometimes you’re getting several things. I learned that as well. A lot of these people are just lost and forgotten, and nobody cares, and nobody’s heard of Hanford.

I put these stories together, and it’s going to be published soon. I want to give people a chance to at least tell their stories in bookstores, and have someone listen to them for once. I wish our government would apologize for what happened. Just the fact that you guys are collecting these stories gives me a lot of thanks and hope. 

I’d love to have more people like me share their stories, so that the public understands what happened downwind of Hanford, or downwind of the Nevada Test Site and some of the other Manhattan Project sites, because I’m not the only one who’s gone through this.

As I said, I think my dad died of thyroid cancer. It was a horrible death, it was very virulent. It’s a fast-moving cancer. My mother died of malignant melanoma. My brother died as part of a spike of neonatal deaths in the downwind area. Lots of babies and infants were dying in the late ‘40s. There’s been a little bit of study of that spike of neonatal deaths, but not really sure that they found what the primary cause was.

Kelly: This CORE [Consequences of Radiation Exposure] group, the people who you’ve been interviewing and the people that were part of the litigation, they’re aging. Is there any good news story in here, in that with the environmental cleanup and the shutdown of these plants, has there been a lack of new cases, or is there still some continuing effects of the environmental assault?

Pritikin: I think there’s a couple of groups that need to be considered here. First of all, the workers who are going in to try to handle the tank farms, who keep inhaling various mysterious toxic fumes. I feel really bad for the folks, where they’re finding little plutonium particles in their lungs from the demolition of the PFP, the Plutonium Finishing Plant. We have people that are inhaling certain things as they try to demolish that plant, but there’s also the tank farm folks who are inhaling stuff. We don’t know what the long-term effects of that will be.

There’s also the next generation people. My kids, my grandkids, we don’t know the genetic effects of exposure. For my book, “The Plaintiffs,” that I’m working on now, some of the people interviewed are children of Downwinders who developed problems. They’re wondering whether these problems might relate to their parents’ exposure.

We have one woman who was born without eyes. No optic nerves, no eyes. I did some research on that. There is a little bit of stuff out there on exposure areas, and sheep born without eyes after exposure, certain people born without eyes. There’s birth defects, who knows. I don’t know, there hasn’t been research done on that. We have kids with autoimmune problems whose parents were exposed.

I’d say the toll continues, both in the genetic problems and in the workers, who are trying to handle this massive mess at Hanford. It’s hard to get a hold on all this highly toxic stuff. How do you clean up something like that? Can you? The legacy continues in that way, for sure, yeah.

We have a group that’s a Washington State non-profit, and it’s also an IRS 501(c)3 tax-exempt group. It’s a public education group formed in 2015. I’m the president of it now, I don’t know how long I will continue to do that.

It’s called CORE, Consequences of Radiation Exposure. We formed because we feel that, first of all, there should be some sort of museum that people can come to to feel some solace and some support, and just hear other peoples’ stories. Most of the Department of Energy-funded museums around the country don’t talk at all about Downwinders or health effects from exposures. We want to form a museum, but that takes a lot of funding.  

We realized as we went along that there was a role for us before that time, because the Manhattan Project Historic National Park was funded for three sites, Hanford, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge. Because we are a group up in the Pacific Northwest, we decided we would work with the Park Service.

There’s a Park Service representative who will be onsite for the Hanford part of that park. We want them to tell the stories not only of the hibakusha survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but of the Downwinders as well. We are in communication with them to make sure that they include that information in any exhibits they develop or in the docents’ talks. We wrote a letter there, and we are a force there, I think. They’re paying attention to us.

We were at the “Legacies of the Manhattan Project” [conference], where we were the only group talking about the Downwinders. We got a huge positive response, and got invited back. I think they were a little worried at first that there would be a riot or somebody would get upset that we were there, but we’re very civilized.  

Our board of directors is like eighteen PhDs from like six or seven universities. It’s an amazing board of directors, just incredible. We’ve got a Russian dose assessment person, we have a couple of people in Asian Studies, we have people in Museum Studies, anthropology, social, political science. We have an attorney who used to represent the Downwinders. We have a law clerk that used to work with the attorneys. Two of us are Downwinders. It’s just such an interesting group.

We’re going to meet in Cedar City, Utah, next to try to help the Nevada Test Site people influence the National Testing Museum in Las Vegas, to include the stories of the Downwinders. It’s very similar to what we’re doing with the Manhattan Project Park.

We’re very reasonable and calm and logical, and that’s important. That’s what we’re trying to do and we’re just moving along slowly, trying to influence things.

I want to talk about an issue that’s really important to me and a lot of other people, which is that nuclear workers under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, or the EEOICPA, which is a mouthful—some workers, not all, but some workers receive compensation and healthcare, if they have one of the diseases on this list that’s recognized as radiation-related. That list is quite similar to the list under RECA, Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which allows some Downwinders in some geographic areas from the Nevada Test Site to receive compensation.

I feel that infants and children exposed downwind of Hanford, who develop any of those diseases on the recognized lists, should also be eligible for compensation and healthcare. Think of the moral issues here. You have kids who not give consent to be exposed and were not in a contractual relation to work at Hanford, yet they get nothing. Versus workers who knew they were entering into some kind of a risky work—although they may not have known the full extent of the risk—can get compensation and healthcare. There’s something wrong with this picture.

It makes so much sense to me and many others that people who grew up downwind of Hanford who have any of the diseases on that recognized list should receive at least healthcare, and possibly some compensation for those diseases. That’s important to me, and it’s logical.

It’s the same framework as RECA, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. The list of diseases that are radiation-related should be applied to this, to the population downwind of Hanford and downwind of the other former Manhattan Project sites where radiation was airborne, radiation was released. I just wanted to make that comment.