Trinity downwinders decry secrecy in new federal study of atomic test’s health impacts

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Seventy years after the top-secret explosion of the world’s first nuclear device in the Southern New Mexico desert, advocates for New Mexicans who say radioactive fallout from the Trinity Site test made them ill are growing increasingly wary of what they say is a new round of government secrecy, even as they are finally getting attention from the government after years of having their complaints ignored.

This new uneasiness was apparent as they met in Santa Fe last week with National Cancer Institute researchers who are making the first attempt to document possible doses of radiation received by individuals across the state and assess the health risks.

For privacy and scientific-research reasons, the researchers said, they could not reveal the protocols they are following as they conduct a survey of lifestyles that might have led to internal exposures to radiation from the nuclear cloud that deposited fallout across a wide area in July 1945.

That explanation failed to satisfy some who have complained that the U.S. government told them nothing about the potential dangers before or after Los Alamos scientists set off the atomic bomb.

“When something is done in such secrecy … when they say ‘we can’t share that, we can’t share this,’ it just makes me very suspicious,” said Tina Cordova , leader of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which is working to get Congress to acknowledge Southern New Mexicans’ claims of decades of suffering from what they believe were radiation-induced cancers, thyroid disease and other afflictions.

“It’s just reminiscent of the secrecy that was in place around the development of the Trinity bomb and the testing, and even what goes on in Los Alamos today,” she said. “I can’t help but think that in some regard, we’ve become victims again.”

National Cancer Institute researchers briefed members of Cordova’s group and other activists, as well as representatives from New Mexico Indian tribes and the state’s congressional delegation, on the institute’s work toward determining possible statewide health effects from the Trinity test.

In a meeting Wednesday at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, the researchers, including health physicist and project director Steve Simon, declined to reveal which New Mexico communities would be included in the survey of residents who were alive at the time of the blast.

A year ago, as a pilot study was about to begin, a researcher with the institute toldThe New Mexican that the communities involved in the study would include Alamogordo, Roswell, Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as the Mescalero Apache community in Southern New Mexico and Picuris Pueblo in Taos County.

Last week, National Cancer Institute subcontractor, Emily Haozous of The University of New Mexico’s nursing department, said the list of communities has changed. But she would not identify the communities, nor would she discuss how specific questions for the survey would be selected.

While several participants at the meeting complained that researchers are shrouding the study in secrecy, Marian Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo said she appreciated privacy measures afforded to tribal members.

Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico chapter of Interfaith Worker Justice said she was disappointed that “in a state as large as New Mexico, the [public] cannot be told where the interviews were conducted. … It seems like there is a cloak of what I would call secrecy rather than privacy over this project.”

View the full story from The Santa Fe New Mexican