HRSA Seeks to Raise Cancer Awareness Among 'Downwinders'

The Health Resources and Services Administration's Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program (RESEP) recently launched a nationwide outreach effort to raise awareness about the need for cancer screening among people who lived near nuclear weapons testing facilities in the mid-20th century. The effort also targets former test site employees and workers in the uranium mining industry.

Individuals who could have been affected by radiation from above-ground nuclear blasts are known as "downwinders." Most downwinders lived or worked for at least two years near the Nevada Test Site (NTS) during parts of 1951-58 and 1962. NTS is about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas; 100 atmospheric nuclear explosions took place there.

Other eligible RESEP participants include nuclear test site employees who worked at the Trinity (N.M.), Pacific, or South Atlantic test sites between 1945 and 1962.

Miners, millers and transporters of uranium may also be eligible to receive RESEP services and compensation from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) if they worked in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington or Wyoming between 1942 and 1971.

Individuals who believe they have been exposed to radiation, as described by the program, or who have family members that have been exposed are encouraged to visit the RESEP Web page (http://ruralhealth.hrsa.gov/radiationexposure/default.htm) and download an informational brochure, also available through the HRSA Information Center (1-888-ASK- HRSA).

Web site visitors will find frequently asked questions, learn which jobs and locations make them eligible for cancer screening and other RESEP services, and be able to locate and contact the RESEP clinics that provide them. Health providers will find clinical guidelines and other tools. People who cannot travel to a RESEP clinic are urged to talk to their physicians about their concerns, and get screened and treated if necessary.

"HRSA grantees under RESEP have reached out to affected individuals and health care providers in the Southwest since the first program awards were made several years ago," said HRSA Administrator Elizabeth Duke. "Now we want to use these Web-based resources and other tools to make sure RESEP services are available to all eligible individuals, wherever they may live now."

To spread the word about the outreach effort, HRSA will distribute several thousand "Dear Colleague" letters explaining RESEP goals to other federal agencies and health care and health professional organizations across the country. The letters will ask organizations to join the effort by distributing an informational brochure and placing an ad explaining RESEP services in newsletters and other publications. Those brochure and ad are available online on the updated RESEP Web page.

RESEP currently funds seven health and medical centers in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. The clinics:

  • provide public education and information about radiation exposure;
  • offer free or low-cost screenings for radiation-related (radiogenic) cancer and chronic illnesses;
  • make treatment referrals: and
  • help individuals diagnosed with radiogenic cancer or illness prepare documentation and file compensation claims with DOJ.

HRSA will award approximately $1.5 million in three-year RESEP grants in September of this year. HRSA first made RESEP awards in 2002 under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments passed in 2000, which established the program. Under RECA, DOJ awards $50,000 to $100,000 in compensation to affected individuals or surviving family members.

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