Guam Lawmakers Claim U.S. Nuclear Tests Impacted Health

admin's picture

Federal bill seeks to amend exposure compensation act to include Guam

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 28, 2015) – Guam lawmaker Judith Won Pat said there's "undoubtedly a correlation" between the island's exposure to radiation from nuclear tests conducted in the years following World War II and high incidence of cancer.

Some island legislators are throwing support behind bills in Congress that would recognize Guam as an area affected by the radiation and would compensate those who developed serious health conditions as a result.

Amend federal law

The bills would amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a law passed in 1990 that set up a trust fund to compensate people who were exposed to ionizing radiation caused by nuclear testing in Nevada and the Marshall Islands. A public hearing was held last week at the Guam Legislature to discuss a resolution supporting the amendment of the law.

"Guam's inclusion in RECA is long overdue," Won Pat said.

Speaker Judith Won Pat, Sen. Tina Muña Barnes and Vice-Speaker Benjamin Cruz introduced Resolution 39-33 in March. The bills currently in the House and Senate, which have the same language, were introduced in February.

The 1990 law established a program to compensate "persons meeting a specific health criteria" after exposure to radiation, the resolution states. One-hundred million dollars was appropriated for the program.

If the law is amended according to the bills in Congress, Guam would be included as an area affected -- known as a "downwind" site -- and claimants who suffered from illnesses from exposure would receive $150,000.

The resolution states that Guam was located about 1,200 miles west of the nuclear test sites, and that radioactive dust particles settled on the island after flowing through the jet streams in the atmosphere.

An amendment to the 1990 law in 2000 modified the eligibility criteria for compensation and included new categories for those affected -- including people considered "downwinders," the resolution states.

'Downwind' or not?

However, people on Guam at the time of the tests have yet to qualify for the compensation. Guam has never been considered a "downwind" site.

The resolution states Guam meets eligibility criteria for claims under RECA as a downwinder, as well as an on-site participant "from the washdown of military vessels/aircraft from the nuclear testing conducted at the Pacific Proving Grounds, Marshall Islands."

The resolution states that nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. government in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1962 have led to increased levels of radiation in Guam, which resulted in serious health problems for residents as well as environmental problems.

Measured high levels

In 1952, the resolution states, a retired U.S. Navy Lt. Charles Schreiber, who was a radiological safety officer for the Headquarters Command in Guam, testified that he measured high levels of radiation during a routine check.

In his testimonial, he said the dial needle on a metal calibration rod he was using to measure radiation levels "was way over the scale and the audible signal was clicking like mad, or almost a continuous sound; sounds like constant static on a radio."

Schreiber said he first thought the counter was malfunctioning, "but when I raised it up and put it nearer the screen window, the dial needle swung even further over and the sound increased still further."

The needle swung "off the scale," he said.

"I knew it was not the counter, but that there was some radioactivity outside. I panicked. My first thought was that Guam had been subjected to some radioactive dust attack," Schreiber testified.

Additionally, the National Research Council of the National Academies performed an independent assessment of the "radiological consequences related to the weapons tests in the Pacific to people living on Guam," according to its assessment report.

The council concluded, "Guam did receive measurable fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific." It added that residents of Guam during that period should be eligible for compensation under RECA.

Mangilao resident Berthena Nelson said she decided to attend Thursday's public hearing as a concerned citizen.

"We just have a Band-Aid on the wounds. We need to find a solution," she said. "We have to urge Congress to give our people compensation or when are we ever going to get it?"

The resolution states the U.S. Navy indicated full knowledge of the situation and failed to warn the local population.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and Sen. Tom Udall, both of New Mexico, introduced legislation in 2010 to expand RECA to include Guam, the resolution states.

Similar legislation was introduced during the 109th, 110th, 111th, and 112th Congresses, according to a release from the office of Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment