Downwinders: Include Guam in law; Radiation survivors group meets
By Bernice Santiago • Pacific Sunday News • October 18, 2009
A group of island residents and members of the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors met yesterday to discuss legislation that proposes to include Guam in the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
The federal RECA law, passed in 1990, compensates people who have been diagnosed with specific cancers and chronic diseases that could have resulted from exposure to agents associated with nuclear weapons testing, according to a 2005 report published by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council.
The law covers exposure to nuclear tests carried out for more than 20 years during and after World War II. According to the report, both on-site participants of above-ground nuclear tests and "downwinders" in areas designated by RECA are eligible for compensation.
Areas of Nevada, Utah and Arizona are covered in the law as "Downwind Counties," the report states.
The PARS group hopes to include Guam in the law, citing concerns about exposure to radioactive debris during the 1940s and 1950s, when a series of atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands.
The tests were conducted 1,200 miles east of Guam, in an area where trade winds are predominantly from east to west, the report states.
In the report, the National Research Council's committee on radiation exposure recommends that residents of Guam living be eligible for compensation as "downwinders."
"Help us identify what's really going on, what really happened," said Terry Flores at the meeting yesterday. Two of her sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer, she said. The tests were conducted when she was a young girl, and Flores was concerned that there could be a possible link between their diagnosis and radiation exposure.
Tamuning resident Dolores Taitingfong, a cancer survivor, said that she hopes residents who were exposed and may have become ill from exposure will be compensated.
"I'm not looking for compensation, I'm well now," Taitingfong said. "But the other people who are sick need it."
The report states that Guam received measurable fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific, according to an independent assessment by the NRC committtee. Further efforts are necessary to establish associated cancer risk, according to the report.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death on Guam, according to data the Guam Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition released Friday.
Nearly 20 percent of deaths on the island from 2003 to 2007 were cancer-related, but the coalition stated that the general cancer trends on Guam are similar to what's seen on the mainland U.S.
Certain Guam cancer cases have been linked to smoking, according to the data. Guam has the highest percentage of smokers in the nation -- 27.3 percent, according to Yvette Paulino of UOG and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii Partnership.