Some residents of the southern half of Mohave County are fighting to be recognized and compensated after cold war nuclear testing in Clark County, Nevada pushed radiation throughout the country's southwest.
Many Arizona counties were designated as 'Downwinder' communities, except for the southern half of Mohave County. “Sometimes it was clouds, grey dust clouds, sometimes multi-colored," said Dan Bishop. Bishop witnessed the mushroom clouds from his home in Mohave County with the blasts going off 65 miles away. “Its become common knowledge that a lot of people were getting sick.”
It was a different time, when the end of one war ushered in a more dangerous era. A time when the unthinkable was a push of a button away. The above-ground nuclear testing was once a celebration.
“Moment in history that we were being able to to see this wonderful thing that was happening," said Irma England said. England said teachers would line her class up to watch the mushroom clouds from the playground.
For so many people, there is still a war, but this time, for justice. “My brother's first wife got cancer and died. Her sister, brother, mother all died from cancer and they were all here in the '50s," said Gary Watson, former Supervisor of Mohave County. "The government should be held responsible and admit a mistake was made," said Jean Bishop, Dan's wife and supervisor of Mohave County.
In the small town of Kingman, memories can be found at every turn. “Definitely good memories. You know we have one junior high, one high school. I graduated with a huge class of 92 so and we thought that was quite large for our little high school," said England. Dan Bishop said everyone knew everyone and they all got along. “That's just the way it was, maybe you didn’t like that guy but you went out and helped him anyway," said Bishop.
Decades later, those still alive are bonded together from the controlled destruction in Clark County, Nevada. A time when the government tested nuclear warheads during the cold war. “Unfortunately, developed cancer as well as a couple sisters," said Jean Bishop. “Oldest sister Judy had brain cancer and she died at the young age of 26," said Bishop. Eddie Dene Patillo and Danielle Stephens are both still fighting cancer, they believed it came from the nuclear testing, Patillo lost a sister to the unforgiving disease. “It was a heart wrenching story; they all had cancer and cancer with their families," said Patillo.
In 1990, the government tried to right its past wrongs with the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA. It would give communities a one time $50,000 payment and recognition as a "Downwinder." In 2000, legislation passed to include more counties but left out the southern half of Mohave County, even though that area neighbors Clark County, the county where the testing happened. Watson believes they were excluded because the population size meant a bigger payout. “Historically when you go back to the '50s. When the experimentation was happening and the explosion was happening. The predominant population in Mohave county was in the Kingman area, and of course in Nevada it was in the Las Vegas area, and you have to realize the populations of both areas was very, very small. But it was the only significant areas where they had population," said Watson. Others think they were underrepresented in the government.
A state health report on Mohave County raises eyebrows. The report shows that they have some of the highest cancer rates in the state between 1999-2001. “Not only the types of cancer, because we also have high smoking rates in our county, but looking at how a nuclear test could affect the cancer rate. I could see there being issues," said Mohave County Public Health Director, Denise Burley. Jean Bishop said there is no way to prove 100% that there is a correlation between the cancer rates and the nuclear testing. "I don't know if anyone can be a 100% sure but the cancer rates in Mohave County is much higher than the surrounding counties and we’re neighboring to Clark County which is where the explosion occurred," said Bishop.
Now, these people are sharing their stories, to receive compensation and most of all, recognition as 'Downwinders' from the federal government. “People want the recognition that they were wronged and it should be corrected," said Bishop. RECA expires in 2022, Rep. Greg Stanton is introducing new legislation to recognize people and compensate people in the southern half of Mohave County.