The Hanford Files — Downwinders Left Out of the 70th Anniversary of Plutonium Central

We are at a point where we try so hard to shunt our human stupidity, forgo any foresight, embrace and honor our consumer plague and believe the stories in our heads that somehow this point of methane explosion – a world without ICE —  human population blight, economic and ecological divisions and degradations somehow are just blips in the scheme of things.

A good movie, an in-your-face iron chef cooking show, some silly jive about I Have a Dream is So Coming True lol, and a few milliseconds of philanthropy in between a billion waking hours surfing and porning and blathering on the Internet and listening or reading (do we still do that as a species) to pundits, great pretenders and some great white hope nonsense from the Zionist-Cristo-Allah genetic defects, well, all of that, completely pimped by our flasher-exhibitionist-voyeur modern-post-modern pre-collapse sentient selves is pushing us to the brink of collapse fatigue, analysis paralysis and the will of the coders.

Amazing really how hubris, the skilled believers in magical thinking, and the backers of technology as savior and ecopornography as substitute for hard work and conservation and pulling back on EVERYTHING we smear on earth as part of the West’s Killing Machine of Economic and Military Superiority, and social Darwinism, thrown in, around the whirl of abstractions and distractions that is the message of the medium, how it all is just one clot on humankind’s collective brain. It really just comes from the endless waste of human capital and grenade-tossing at our community cohesion.

All that time spent on the killing in Syria, the Killing Obama in Chief, and oh the irony that Japan okays a military strike by Obama on Syria – now what clean and non-toxic and chemical-free weaponry might that be that the US of A deploys as a retort to the chemical sprays supposedly delivered by Syrian X and Syrian Y? – when that country, Japan, has unleashed a truly despicable force of radioactive isotopes and then more with bleeding millions of gallons of “hot” water into the oceans for all species to love and see and bio accumulate. Better living through nuclear chemistry, they say.

Field

I’m working on the Hanford story, now 70 years old, a celebration coming up in October —  read, c-e-l-e-bray-tion for the breeders that gave us some of the plutonium that fueled the 70,000 war heads in the USA’s arsenal of chemical weapons on steroids. Oh, yeah, made twice as much plutonium than was used in war heads. Rods sent to Korea, then, well, you get the picture. Atomic Age USA. It’s in the Tri-Cities, Eastern Washington, on the Columbia River, right there where water-water-water could be used to cool the radioactive muck. The place is desert, yes, in WASHINGTON state, the evergreen state. Many indigenous tribes used to use/still use the fish ( incredible salmon BEFORE dams, pollution, over-fishing), the roots, the berries and the air for their benedictions. Out in the middle of white man’s nowhere, for the secrecy and for the monkish nature of governments making false dichotomies around atoms for peace.

They kicked farmers off the land in 1943, with eminent domain buy outs. The people scattered, and the displaced farmers who got lucky and found “new” land had to pay out the nose as land prices spiked. What peace. Over a 177 leaking tanks, and millions of gallons of hot-hot and corrosive muck moving into groundwater, into soil. Forget about the downwinder aspect of this mess. There’s a generating plant on the spot where the big bang plutonium was manufactured to bomb the hell out of Japan, one way or another, and there were all sorts of “others” in attacking children and adults and civilians.

There are over 40 miles of unlined trenches with radioactive and chemical   wastes – picture I-90 as a trench fifty feet deep filled with radioactive wastes from   Spokane to Ritzville, or I-5 from Seattle to Marysville. Then picture your federal  government refusing to do anything to clean it up. — Gerry Pollet, JD; executive  director, Heart of America Northwest

I’m just letting off steam, sort of, as a precursor to a news article I am finishing up and writing. Sort of the cathartic emissions for writing in a world of shifting baselines, agnotology and dumbdowning and anti-journalism. But get this – Oct. 2 pomp and circumstance by the engineers, by the Department of Energy, by the welfare giant contractors eating off the public coffers – GE, Fluor, Bechtel, et al, and the city fathers of Richland and Kennewick and Pasco, the Tri-Cities, who have benefited from the arid lands of this sagebrush place of winds and permanent drought – they are not including the downwinders, some two million affected by the Iodine-131 releases into the atmosphere.

Yep, I’ve been talking with historians, downwinders, environmental lawyers, and many more. People with the Hanford necklace – scars from the thyroidectomy to take out cancerous and blown out thyroids. It’s a story of know-it-all-scientists, and, really, government collusion, secrecy, and the Radiation Warfare Project, taken over by DARPA.

The hot milk study, the scientists and overseers knew about. You know, grass and hay touched with the radioactive Iodine 131 transmitted via vapors from the nuke facility. Through the winds, and rains and snow concentrated it in hot spots, and, lo and behold, cows eat the hay and the milk accumulated the I-131. Hell, there were milk trains, twice a week, from Pasco to Spokane. The milk the Richland folk drank came from Wisconsin. Nothing like a giant guinea pig experiment. Except, downwinders are dying, are old, and are sick. And worn down by the Michael Clayton rule of law – we the taxpayers are footing the bill for the legal fees of the downwinder lawyers – up to $60 million thus far — and the plaintiffs are up against those big ass lawyers who DO NOT care about people but do care about BUCKS and delays and inside negotiating and buying off JUDGES and fixing JUDGMENTS. No payouts for folk who have seen entire families die of cancers and autoimmune diseases, and, well, look it up – all the maladies caused by radionuclides.

Forget about DNA mutations one, two- four generations down the line. So, in the end, some of these people, AKA whistleblowers, conspiracy nuts who are in fact sane, all these folk who have been screwed by scientists, academics, city, county and federal officials, by the corporations, by the Curies hitting them, they are the heroes in some sense. I try to capture some of the struggle.

Of course, go back 70 years to Eastern Washington along the Columbia River, called the Mid-Columbia Valley: small farms and communities like White Bluffs, Richland and Hanford, and down the way the towns like Mesa where Tom Bailie (one of my sources) grew up and worked as a dryland farmer, or Prosser. Go back to the 1800s and you see a land exclusively made up of Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla people.

I’ll post the story once it gets published, but I will continue to cover education from this angle – oral histories, and ground truthing. Unfortunately, some of the eugenics greenie weenies (More Trees, Less People) see nuclear as a future savior for a very screwed up and out of balance globe of the few haves who have it all and the haves not who have not a thing other than agency in some cases, minds and the willingness to go against the grain of a culture of financial syphilitics going after every rotten dime and dollar they can find their time to lick up.

[**Note -- People have emailed me challenging my One Percent Own 43 Percent of Wealth, 19 Percent Control 53 percent, and, us, US, control 7 percent representing 80 Percent of the Population Meme-Factoid-Truth. Give me a break. The stats come from important sources, and I know National Petroleum-Propaganda-Pesticide-Privatizing Radio (NPR) just reported yesterday about "wage inequity" and had some East Coast "economists" purporting the One Percent has 19 percent, or maybe the number was 39, but, really!? Look it up, here, Forbes, not exactly a bastion of real open, deep, fair reporting! Am I done?** ]

Bizarre, really, the greenie weenies thinking a solution to human population exponential growth is somehow closer than conservation, reducing, death of consumerism, death of capitalism, death to transnational economic hit-men partnerships, and the reverse of environmental fortunes in favor of NATURE. They want big energy and big construction and big surveillance and big money to own it all – nukes, us, our seven generations down the line.

Every decision that we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?
– Chief Oren Lyons, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations).

Note: I will also be reviewing Kate Brown’s book, Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (See her story: one chapter).

Arid Lands, the film about the place and people there in and around Hanford.

See Trisha Thompson Pritikin’s web site, a real fighter, and downwinder.

The Hanford Challenge.

For my poem on the watch painters, circa 1920s, who painted our watches with radium zinc -based paints, go to the DV Poetry Page. This poem first printed in Crosscurrents around 2008.

See the history of the Radium Girls here and here.

Hanford map

Paul Kirk has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. Read other articles by Paul.