Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Supreme Court rejects appeal in downwind radiation case

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by several contractors, potentially clearing the way for a settlement with as many as 2,000 people exposed to radiation during the Manhattan Project and the early years of the Cold War. The contractors - E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., General Electric Co. and UNC Nuclear Industries Inc. - were challenging a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last spring that sided largely with the plaintiffs. The people exposed to radiation lived in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and Idaho, down wind of the Hanford nuclear reservation, as the U.S. government was developing the first atomic bombs in the 1940s. They've spent nearly two decades trying to win compensation for thyroid cancer and other conditions that they say were caused by the exposure. The Supreme Court's one-line denial of the appeal raised the downwinders' hopes of a global settlement of the case. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend a book called "Justice Downwind" by Howard Ball. It tells the story of a similar case brought by downwinders in Nevada. The book's backcover provides the following summary: "Concerned with the hazards of cancer and radioactive fallout, 1,100 citizens living downwind of the Nevada Testing Site, in an effort to expose the Atomic Energy Commission's negigence in implementing the testing, sued the government for causing injury and wrongful death. Fearful that public outcry might shut down the program, AEC officials, during the 1950s, downplayed any suggestion that the testing program might endanger the health of persons living downwind of the testing site. By 1978, scientific studies had demonstrated associations between the epidemic of childhood leukemia and other cancers in the region and radioactive fallout. Pressing their case in the courts and in Congress, the downwind plaintiffs found themselves up against a government that remains even today reluctant to admit its responsibility."

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