New Mexico downwinders continue push for federal benefits

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – It’s now 77 years after Operation Trinity, and many New Mexicans are still waiting for the feds to pay up after radiation contaminated the land and led to countless deaths.

The same week that President Biden came to New Mexico, he signed off on a boost to federal benefits – the problem is people in New Mexico don’t get them.

“There were 15,000 children, women, and men living in a 50-mile radius to Trinity in 1945,” said Tina Cordova. 

Tina Cordova’s family living in Tularosa, one of the thousands exposed to high levels of intense radiation from the test, said ash rained for days and blanketed the land, contaminated their water, livestock, and homes. 

“I’m the fourth generation to have cancer since 1945 when the test was detonated,” said Cordova. “I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 39 and the first thing they asked me was when were you exposed to radiation.”

She says there is no way of knowing just how many people were exposed and died from the contamination, but to this day that explosion is still felt.

“We’ve already collected close to 1,000 health surveys through a voluntary process where people have wanted us to document their cancer history,” Cordova said. 

This is why Cordova co-founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, where they try to get restitution for the pain and death they’ve experienced. 

Cordova was relieved that, last week, President Joe Biden prevented the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) from expiring next month. But the problem with this act is it doesn’t cover anyone in New Mexico.

“We were the first people ever to be exposed to radiation any place in the world. We were the original downwinders. And why we were left out of RECA in 1990 and then again in 2000 when it was expanded, no one can answer that,” said Cordova. 

For years, Cordova and New Mexico lawmakers have tried to expand RECA with no luck. But now she believes it will be different.

“Now everybody knows about RECA. Everybody in Congress and the president now knows about RECA. We couldn’t say that three months ago,” Cordova said. 

There are two proposals in Congress right now to expand RECA. 

Cordova said she worries that there will not be enough Senators getting on board.