WASHINGTON -- April 1 -- After the federal government cut funding for a long-term study on the connections between thyroid disease and radioactive fallout from nuclear testing, downwinders called it the latest example of the governments disregard for the tragic health legacy of nuclear testing. The Center for Disease Control announced in a March 21 letter to University of Utah researcher Joseph Lyon that they are yanking the funds for his Utah Thyroid Disease Study.
Lyons study, which began in 1977, has been following a group of 4,000 residents of Washington County, Utah and Lincoln County, Nevada who were school children during the early years of testing. In 1993, the study found that fallout-related thyroid tumors increased 3.4 times over the expected rate among school children exposed to the highest doses. The government has already invested $8 million in the study. A CDC spokesman first said the agency discontinued funding because it lacks the financial resources to continue the project, but a few days later another CDC spokesman said the study was reaching the end of its funding cycle and denied that it was being cut short. Without an extension, however, Lyons study will never be completed and his data will have to be archived.
Downwinders were stunned to learn that former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt who now heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service which oversees the CDC, was quoted in the Deseret Morning News saying he is comfortable with the end of funding.
In a strongly worded editorial, the St. George, Utah Spectrum called on Leavitt to use his new political clout to assist those who our government deemed necessary to use as guinea pigs.
A lot of us are cynical about the whole thing, says Preston Truman, president of Downwinders, who was one of the original members of a thyroid study Lyon conducted in the 1960s. Maybe the CDC didnt like that Lyons study was investigating other health effects caused by fallout exposure.
St. George resident Jeff Bradshaw, who was participating in Lyons study and suffers from thyroid problems, told the Spectrum, Id just say its another one of (the federal governments) schemes. I think theyre trying to get away from doing anything for the downwinders because they want to start the testing again.
While admitting that funding issues are complex, downwinders remain skeptical of the CDC decision. It seems to be a matter of priorities, says Salt Lake City downwinder Mary Dickson. The government, as Lyons noted, is still funding at least two major studies of the health effects of fallout from Chernobyl. Apparently, U.S. citizens dont rank as high as Russian citizens, which is hard for me to understand. Maybe the government doesnt really want to know what the health effects of testing were on our own population. How can we have a full acknowledgement of what testing did to Americans if the studies arent there? How can justice be served?
It is ironic that the study, which has been billed by the CDC and other government agencies as what will be the definitive verdict on the health effects on downwinders, is going to be terminated half-way to completion, says Truman. That much more of the history of what really happened to downwinders can be ignored just as it is already being ignored by the Atomic Testing Museum in Nevada. This is especially frightening when it comes at the same time the government is discussing renewed testing.
A lot of people, including members of Utahs congressional delegation, have been waiting for the results of Lyons study. When funds for the study ran low in 2003, Utahs Sen. Bob Bennett was instrumental in getting a one-year extension. Downwinders are urging Utahs congressional delegation and political leaders to do what they can to insure that the study will be completed. Utah Rep. Jim Mathesons office is working with the Utah delegation on a strategy to secure additional funding for the project.
Taxpayer money would be much better spent if the $25 million the government has earmarked for preparing the Nevada Test Site for renewed testing were put into finishing this study, says Vanessa Pierce of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEALUtah).