Downwinders rail at government Rally participants demand cancellation of planned Nevada explosion
Idaho Statesman
June 6, 2006
Tim Woodward

EMMETT — Downwinders told their stories with tears and breaking voices at a rally in Emmett on Sunday, but the prevailing emotion was anger at the government.

“We’ve been nice,” said Doris Pattenger of Eagle after telling the crowd that nuclear testing had damaged the health of 13 of her family members. “Now we need to get mad.”

“Yeah, hit ’em where it hurts!” an audience member shouted to enthusiastic applause.

Tom Gatfield used his turn at the open microphone in Emmett City Park to add that, “if we can’t get our representatives to stop being lieutenants to the executive branch, we need to replace them — even if it means voting for the other party.”

About 80 people attended the rally to repeat the call for federal compensation for Idaho’s downwinders and demand that the “divine strake,” a massive non-nuclear explosion planned for this month in Nevada but postponed, be canceled. They fear the explosion could kick up existing radioactivity in the soil, potentially repeating the scenario that created downwinders — people who contracted cancer as a result of nuclear bomb testing in Nevada in the 1950s and ’60s.

More than $440 million in compensation has been paid to downwinders and their survivors in Nevada, Utah and Arizona, but none to downwinders in Idaho. Four counties in Idaho — Gem, Blaine, Custer and Lemhi — ranked in the nation’s top five in having the highest per capita thyroid dosage of radiation, Sen. Mike Crapo said in a speech last year.

Patricia Cluff, who grew up on a dairy farm near Emmett, spoke of drinking fresh milk, picking and eating cherries and washing dirt from the windows after rainstorms, never knowing she was being exposed to radioactivity. She, her siblings and her children have had such a high incidence of cancer, she said, that the University of Connecticut is doing a study on them.

“When I heard they were going to do another test, it made me absolutely sick — not for myself but for my grandchildren,” she said.

Event organizer Tona Henderson said the government “created generations of downwinders, and now they’re trying to do it again. We don’t want to be their lab rats.”

Joanne Torrez of Boise said she had lost two downwinder aunts and an uncle, and several friends in Blaine County. She is fighting lymphoma herself.

Peter Rickards of Twin Falls said it was his understanding that “they’ll only do the test in Nevada when the wind is blowing north. They’re not going to do it when it’s blowing toward Las Vegas. Or Washington, D.C.”

New Jersey native Lee Rigdon, who has spent the last 12 years in Idaho, said she learned she was a downwinder when she saw a map in Henderson’s Emmett shop. Rigdon’s former home in New Jersey was in a fallout zone. She’s had breast cancer and ovarian cancer, she said, and her mother, daughter and granddaughter have also been victims.

“Now they want to do it again and create another 60 years of death, devastation and illness,” she said. “We can’t let this happen again.”