The term "downwinders" was originally used in reference to communities or people living in regions where weapons testing or nuclear accidents may have occurred, primarily in sparsely populated areas of some western and southwestern states between 1945 and 1962. Those who lived downwind of these testing sites may have been exposed to serious health risks because of exposure to nuclear fallout or radioactive contaminants. Some individuals who worked in the uranium industry between 1942 and 1971 may also be classified as downwinders due to their potential exposure to harmful radiation during their employment.
The Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) was implemented to help individuals deal with the aftereffects of exposure to radiation. The purpose of this program is to help those who fall into the category of downwinders with:
- appropriate medical screenings and treatment referrals
- education concerning health risks they may face
- assistance with necessary documentation
Monetary grants may also be available to individuals who meet the requirements of this program. It is important to note that the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) under which these funds are granted is slated to expire in July of 2022, so those who have been exposed to radiation as described above or those who have lost a spouse or parent due to a qualifying level of radiation exposure should seek further information as quickly as possible.
To help with identifying those who may be most affected, the following categories were developed to help determine exposure risk:
- on-site testing participants — individuals who were physically present during specific nuclear testing during the covered time frame
- downwinders — individuals who were exposed to fallout from nuclear testing due to their county of residency during a qualifying time period
- uranium workers, including mineworkers, mill workers, or transport drivers working in qualifying states during a qualifying time period
Affected individuals may be asked for documentation of residency or employment when seeking medical screenings or care or when applying for monetary funds under the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program.
Downwinders may experience a variety of serious health problems, including many types of cancer. Some of the most often attributed types of cancer include blood cancers, like leukemia, many types of lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, and many types of primary cancer, including cancer of the esophagus, liver, gallbladder, lung, brain, and colon.
If you feel that you or a loved one meet the basic criteria of a downwinder, you should immediately contact a physician familiar with radiation exposure to discuss your situation.
For more information, contact a company like Downwinders (a subsidiary of National Cancer Benefits Center).