Meetings for 'Downwinders' After Cancer Linked To Nuclear Tests

Held in Cedar City and St. George

ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 Utah) Health experts in southern Utah search for people who lived downwind of nuclear tests in Nevada during the 1950's and '60's.

The "downwinders" need to be closely monitored for the effects of radiation exposure. 

An estimated 60,000 Utahns who lived in the southern half of the state during the tests are at a much higher risk of cancer.

Martha Wiser remembers lying on the lawn watching remnants of a nuclear bomb as a child in St. George.

"We were just looking up at it. 'Oh! Isn't that interesting.' That was maybe the one they labeled Dirty Harry. It was one of the worst," Wiser said.   

Around 100 nuclear bombs were tested in Nevada between 1951 and 1958 and July of 1962, sending radiation straight to southern Utah. 

In 2015, doctors diagnosed Wiser with stage 1 breast cancer, likely caused by radiation exposure. Fourteen years prior, her father died from fallout-induced pancreatic cancer. 

"It was so sudden and came on so suddenly, he was gone. It was heartbreaking," Wiser said. 

"There was a lot, a lot of radioactive exposure to the people who lived in this area," Carolyn Rasmussen said, case manager for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP). 

RESEP at Dixie Regional Medical Center will hold public informational meetings in the Cedar City Hospital boardroom from 6-7 p.m. on Feb. 22 and in the Select Health Auditorium, 1424 E. Foremaster Drive in St. George, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on March 1.

"You can't undo that risk. All you can do is try to be proactive in trying to catch something early if it does crop up," Rasmussen said.

Downwinders can receive $50,000 in federal compensation for nuclear test radiation exposure. 

Nineteen cancers that qualify for compensation include leukemia (but  not chronic lymphocytic leukemia), multiple myeloma, lymphomas (other than Hodgkin’s), and primary cancers of the pharynx, small intestine, salivary gland, brain, stomach, urinary tract/bladder, colon, thyroid, pancreas, breast, esophagus, bile ducts, liver, gall bladder, lung, and ovary.

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