Residents: First atom bomb test caused cancer

This aerial image shows the effects of the first atomic explosion July 16, 1945, at Trinity Test Site, New Mexico.
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Residents said the world's first atomic-bomb test caused generations of southern New Mexico families to suffer from cancer and economic hardship, according to surveys gathered by an advocacy group seeking compensation for descendants.

The surveys released Friday detailed residents' stories from areas around the 1945 Trinity Test and argue many Hispanic families later struggled to keep up with cancer-related illnesses.

The health effects of the test long have been debated in New Mexico.

"It's the first-ever study done on the Tularosa Downwinders," said Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. "We wanted people to tell their stories in the fashion, because it's never been done before."

Members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium long have contended those living near the site of the world's first atomic-bomb test in 1945 weren't told about the dangers or compensated for their resulting health problems.

Tina Cordova

Since then, they say, descendants have been plagued with cancer and other illnesses while the federal government ignored their plight.

Chuck Wiggins, director of the New Mexico Tumor Registry, has said data shows cancer rates in Tularosa are about the same as other parts of the state. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death all over New Mexico, he said.

On Friday, Wiggins said he hadn't gone through the report.

"It is detailed and lengthy," he said. "I have not had a chance to systematically review the entire document."

About 800 community health surveys and two community focus groups were used to collect data for the report in partnership with the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Cordova said the report wasn't a scientific epidemiology study but an attempt to gather information from residents who have complained about various cancers in families who had limited access to health insurance.

The surveys involved residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa and four New Mexico counties. They want lawmakers to include New Mexico in a federal law that compensates residents near atomic tests.

The Trinity Test took place as part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret World War II nuclear development program run out of the then-secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Residents did not learn the test had involved an atomic weapon until the U.S. dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended.

In 2015, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, pressed the Senate to include New Mexico residents in the law after meeting with Tularosa Downwinders.

"The Consortium's Health Impact Assessment Report is important work," Udall wrote in a letter to the group Friday. "It adds to the body of evidence that people in this area were injured as a result of radioactive fallout and should be compensated by the federal government."