Help the Downwinders

Floor Speech

Date: May 11, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OWENS. Mr. Speaker, S. 4119 is a clean and simple extension of the existing Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It represents an incredible and increasingly rare achievement here in Congress: a bipartisan solution to a nonpartisan problem.

Between 1945 and 1962, the United States conducted over 100 aboveground nuclear weapons tests, releasing harmful radiation material into the air and literally blanketing parts of the United States, including Utah, with poisonous dust.

RECA, championed by the late Senator Orrin Hatch, was a lifeline to thousands of downwinders whose lives were lost or forever changed because of this exposure. Unless Congress acts, the program will expire in 2 months. That would leave downwinders like Sara Penny of Cedar City, Utah, behind. Her story was cataloged in the ``Downwinders of Utah Archive.''

Sara Penny was born in 1953, the same year the ``Dirty Harry'' bomb was tested in Nevada. She said: ``We knew we could die any day from about 5th grade. Our piano teacher's daughter . . . died of leukemia. A steady stream of deaths followed.''

Her grandfather died of leukemia. Her aunt died of breast cancer. Her cousin had a bone marrow transplant from his brother but died anyway. Her high school classmate died early from a brain tumor. Her cousin got breast cancer.

Her story is tragic, but it is not unique. Too many downwinders are still suffering. Just last week, I heard from constituents who were starting the process of applying for RECA benefits--these are individuals who lived in the shadow of radiation released into our beautiful Western skies.

We have a chance to make right what the Federal Government got wrong when it conducted these nuclear tests in our backyard. We can't walk away from RECA.

For Sara and all downwinders, please join me in voting ``yes'' on S. 4119, the RECA Extension Act of 2022.