A popular newspaper column that carries the motto, "Fighting ignorance since 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought)", written by Cecil Adams is called, “The Straight Dope”. This question-and-answer column, which is also available online, gets syndicated in both the United States and Canada. The author takes on questions from the general public surrounding a variety of subjects such as history and science, even reaching out to superstitions and urban legends. Mr. Adams often boasts to being able to answer any and all questions. In the article from 1984, Did John Wayne die of cancer caused by a radioactive movie set? a reader inquires about an incident regarding John Wayne, cancer, and a Nevada A-bomb test. The following is the actual question posed in the original article,
“My girlfriend says that half of the film crew and eight of the cast of the movie The Conqueror starring John Wayne died of cancer after an A-bomb test in Nevada. It can't be the truth — that many people — can it?” (Adams 1980)
“Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer.” (Adams 1980)
”About 60 tons of that dirt—still measurably radioactive, though now below danger levels—were actually brought back to the studio in Culver City for retakes.” (Jackvich, Sennet 1980)
So, this prompts the next obvious question…
The level of uncertainty surrounding the link between fallout and specific cancers was so high because the number of cancer cases involved was so small. Due to a lack of information on iodine-131 (I-131) exposure from nuclear fallout specifically, a larger body of existing data is used from similar forms of research, such as studying medical x-rays. Researchers Steven Simon, André Bouville and Charles Land suggest that the data supports the notion that certain types of cancer develop as a result of the specific type of radiation exposure. More information on their research and findings can be found here.
Federal records shows excessive levels of radiation were detected in the uranium mines. According to the American Cancer Society, in the 1950’s and 1960’s the U.S. government confirmed that the cancers among people in a third party group were caused by exposure to the high levels of radon** (National Cancer Institute 2011).
”Almost fifty years ago, young Navajo men and boys picked up mining drills and dynamite in an ordeal which would have them contributing to the nuclear defense of the nation” (Schneider 1993).
“From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2011)
"15 months later, in 2001, the EPA returned to demolish Elsie’s unsafe home." In the video, it shows that “the uranium waste piles were right in Elsie’s backyard”, quite literally.
Judy Pasternak has received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work in environmental and investigative journalism. In the hopes to heave some attention and affect some sort of change towards improving the EPA guidelines, much like Spitz did with his documentary, Pasternak also would use the power of the media to bring this issue into the forefront with a pivotal article titled, A peril that dwelt among the Navajos, published in the Los Angeles Times on November 19, 2006. The following section is from the L.A. Times article, which begins with a narrative establishing the background of a character that is all too familiar to our story; the villain in this case is better known as, the hogan.
”The EPA has started sifting through records and interviewing family members to figure out whether mining companies that are operated on the reservation are liable for any damages.” (Frosh 2009)
So that is where the story leaves off. Many are simply stuck waiting through a dragged out painstakingly slow process of the bureaucratic government system at work, not to mention the vast cost to effectively clean-up such a wide area.
In 1990, the U.S. issued a formal apology to the families of miners who were injured or killed by radiation in the government mines and promised to compensate. However, since many elderly Navajo’s do not speak English, the responsibility falls on the children to do the research necessary to persuade a tribal law judge to issue a validation certificate of a tribal marriage. Most of the widows of the Navajo uranium miners were married during a time when tribal ceremonies were not documented, as they are now, in comparison to the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Government officials attribute most of the cause to the delay of the clean up process to the complexity of the situation, like figuring out how to prioritize which mines and mills pose a greater health risk, and there are also others who make the argument that it is more about money and politics. But, one cannot help but pose the glaring question staring out of all of this, “If these levels of radioactivity were found closer to a suburb, would the response be different?” In any case, more and more advocates, some scientists, and even politicians are starting to ask similar questions, even though…