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May 03, 1979 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1979-05-03

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The Michigan Dolly-Thursday, May 3, 1979--Page 5

Town suffers from 50's fall-out

Cancer rate
high in Utah
town after
atomic tests
First of a three-part series
ST. GEORGE, Utah (Reuter) -
Fathers would awaken their children
before dawn and take them to the top of
Black Ridge, on the outskirts of this
Mormon community, to watch the flash
of an atomic explosion.
The children would squeal with ex-
citement as they felt the ground rumble
beneath them and would hurry home to
await the arrival of another "big red
cloud."
"IT WAS AN exciting time,
especially for the children. This was the
1950s and people felt they were wit-
nessing the birth of the atomic age,"
said Irma Thomas, who has lived in her,
neat home here for 45 years and raised
seven children.
The reddish clouds, which took
several hours to drift across the red
desert of Nevada from the atomic
testing site 150 miles west of here,
carried radioactive fall-put from the
explosions.
Today, nearly 650 legal suits seeking
compensation have been filed on behalf
of the dead and the sick of this town and
the surrounding area, claiming the fall-
outs caused cancer, leukemia and other
diseases.
THE CLAIMS total more than a
billion dollars and more suits are ex-
pected to be filed, said an aide of for-
mer Interior Secretary Stuart Udall,
now a lawyer in Washington, who is
helping to prepare the case for the
inhabitants against the Department of
Energy.
"We were the guinea pigs, unknowing
and unwitting guinea pigs," said
Thomas, 72, who put aside her pottery
18 months ago and began writing to
every official she could think of about
the increasing number of cancer cases
in her area.
In this tight, little Mormon town
tucked in the southwestern corner of
Utah, people sometimes wear sacred
'Th old Atomic En'rg-
Commi ssion did a r-
markaiol' jol of sri-p-
ing this n-hol' thing un dir
th, rug-Irma Thomas,
St. G,org', Utah r'sidnt.
garments - known outside the church
as modesty garments - beneath their
clothes. People are slow to react and
authority is respected.
FEDERAL OFFICIALS have in-
sisted there is no scientific evidence to

IN THIS VIEW, the sun sets on the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant south of Harrisburg, Pa., where the worst nuclear
accident in the United States took place just over a month ago. Residents are afraid radiation leaks may turn Harrisburg
into a "fall-out" city similar to St. George, Utah, a town now suffering from the fall-out radiation of atomic testing in the
fifties.

link the number of cancer deaths to the
atomic tests.
"But I was sick with the way people
were dropping off," said Thomas.
"Within a radius of 300 yards of my
home I counted 29 people who had died
in the last few years of cancer,
leukemia, Hodgkin's Disease and
similar complaints..
"It was just dumbfounding and the
same thing was happening all over
town.
"MY SISTER, across-the way died of
breast cancer. Her husband is being
treated for cancer in Salt Lake City,"
Thomas said.
Pointing in another direction, she
continued: "My brother and his family
lived just over there. His wife died and
he and one of their sons are ill now
because of the tests. My youngest
daughter has muscle damage and a
weird blood disorder. There have been
stillbirths and miscarriages in our
family and my husband has had cancer
for 15 years.
"People round here called this place
'Fall-Out City.' I wrote to President
Carter, Congressmen, doctors and
scientists to have these tests ended and
to set up a government clinic here so
people could be tested for radiation,"
Thomas said.
The now-defunct U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission tested more than 80 atomic

devices at its Nevada testing site
during the 1950s and until 1962, when
atmospheric tests were replaced by un-
derground tests.
ACCORDING TO an official report
released last month to investigating
congressmen, 31 of a long series of un-
derground tests "vented" - radioac-
tive gases escaped into the atmosphere
- but there has been no such occurren-
ce since 1971.
Thomas, whose pottery gained
recognition in Europe as well as in the
United States, still laughs easily when
she discusses her eampaign, but her
strong voice expresses her deter-
mination.
"The old Atomic Energy Commission
did a remarkable job of sweeping this
whole thing under the rug," she said.
"They would send in goodwill teams

who had two favorite words for
describing the amount of radiation -
minimal and insignificant."
SHE PRODUCED a commission
pamphlet which contained a letter to
the local people saying in part:
"... Some of you have been exposed to
potential risk from flash, blast or fall-
out. You have accepted the incon-
venience or the risk without fuss,
without alarm or without panic. Your
cooperation has helped achieve an
unusual record of safety."
A local lawyer, J. MacArthur Wright,
said no one told the people about the
dangers that could come in later years.
Wright, whose small office has
become a command post for gathering
information on fall-out, said it was im-
possible to estimate how many people
See UTAH, Page 12

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