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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Montanans want downwinder funds

Mary Clare Jalonick Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Montana residents sickened by Nevada’s nuclear tests in the 1950s may receive compensation for their illnesses under a measure Republican Sen. Conrad Burns is trying to push through Congress.

Burns’ bill, introduced Monday, would amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 to add 15 Montana counties to the areas currently eligible to receive compensation.

The law provides $50,000 for individuals with diseases tied to radiation who lived in parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona at the time of the tests.

A National Academy of Sciences report released last month noted that Montanans are not eligible to receive compensation even though they are some of the most profoundly affected from the tests, many of which were held in Nevada between 1952 and 1957.

“The report was issued for a reason and the results have confirmed what we hoped was not true,” Burns said Monday.

“This amendment will do nothing more than offer the people of my state the same compassion and support that has been offered to each and every state that surrounds us.”

According to a 1997 report from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, the highest per capita dose of radioactive Iodine 131, released during the testing, is Montana’s Meagher County. The report also said that of the 25 counties with the highest dose of I-131, 15 are in Montana.

To receive compensation under Burns’ bill, the resident must have contracted one of the specific diseases – primarily cancers or respiratory diseases – and lived in one of the eligible counties for a period of at least two years between 1951 and 1958.

The National Academy of Sciences report recommended that Congress amend the law by loosening geographic qualifications and tightening criteria for eligibility.

“Compensation is based purely on geography, which isn’t very scientific,” said R. Julian Preston, an Environmental Protection Agency official who chaired the report committee.

High-risk areas are scattered around the West, as winds blew the iodine to several different states.

Montana counties that would be eligible for compensation under Burns’ legislation include Meagher, Broadwater, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Powell, Judith Basin, Madison, Fergus, Gallatin, Petroleum, Lewis and Clark, Blaine, Silver Bow, Chouteau and Deer Lodge.