Nearly 180 miles east of the Hanford nuclear site lies the town of Moscow, Idaho. Home to the University of Idaho Vandals, Moscow is named, “The Heart of the Palouse” and is a lush green farming area with some of the most fertile soil in the country, known for producing varieties of peas, wheat and other grains. Among these green rolling hills is where the Morton family – my family – has lived for generations since the turn of the century.
The winds through Latah County are so strong that the rolling hills of the Palouse were actually formed by the wind carrying silt over thousands of years; southwesterly winds from the Pasco Basin – confirming the area to be “downwind” from the Tri-Cities and Hanford.
My mother, Diana Morton, was born in Moscow, Idaho in 1949 – the same year that the Hanford Green Run experiment was conducted, an intentional release of radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. As an educator and librarian, Diana spent decades of her life researching Hanford and the health impacts of living downwind, in hope of finding a link to her own thyroid disease and later cancer diagnoses, as well as those of her family and friends living in the Palouse area. She unfortunately died of cancer in 2005 at age 56, before she finished her memoir on Hanford.
My mother’s research was on the Green Run, and the release of iodine-131 from Hanford on December 2, 1949, and the subsequent health impacts of children exposed to the iodine resulting in thyroid disease and other cancers. According to the non-profit organization, Hanford Challenge, “The release was designed to test airborne monitoring equipment the United States was developing to collect information on the Russian nuclear program” and much information concerning the test is still classified today after 60 years.
My own family’s legacy of contamination and subsequent burden of disease is echoed by other families who have lived in downwind areas throughout Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, Northeast Oregon and Western Montana. Additionally, those who live and work today near Hanford continue to be threatened by contamination in the groundwater and soil.
It is time we all accept and discuss the threat to public health that has existed for half of a century due to the production of plutonium at Hanford, and resulting nuclear waste that exists today – which is currently leaking from underground storage tanks. Without cleanup, we are all threatened. Let’s be the voice of change, by challenging our government to clean-up the leaking tanks immediately to secure a safe environment for our children’s children.
As a 2013 graduate of the University of Washington, I plan to continue my mother’s research of the health effects from Hanford on local populations, and insure her voice continues to be heard – as a down-winder and victim of Hanford’s Green Run experimentation. It’s up to my generation now to shout out loud the injustices that have resulted from nuclear production in our state, and of the irresponsibility of the parties who are meant to be cleaning up this mess. Thanks to organizations like Hanford Challenge and Heart of America, we have been provided a platform on which to stand, and leaders to follow in this important mission. Ready, set. . . ACT!
By: Emily Turk