By Paul K. Haeder
Survivors downwind from radioactive releases push through complacency, amnesia, and secrets
Hanford is the most tragic chapter in American Cold War history.
– Stewart Udall secretary of the interior under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
How many times have we heard – “Eat your veggies, fruit and cheese, and drink three glasses of milk a day. You’ll grow up strong, healthy, the picture of a gallant, robust American”?
Good advice pre-Ozzie and Harriet days. For Spokane and other cities, the milk pathway, as scientists call it, is where the cows in the Tri-Cities grazed on contaminated hay and grass, laced with iodine-131. That milk was shipped twice weekly to our fair city starting in the 1940s through 1960s.
Thyroids and guts went haywire, and cancers developed. Or at least that’s what one side of the downwinder story unveiled.
As innocuous as it may sound, the 1949 “Green Run” at Hanford will live in infamy, tying people living throughout Washington, Idaho and Oregon at the time of the radioactive releases to their shared destiny.
Many tribes have pulled out three-eyed salmon from the Columbia. Even articles in the Spokesman titled “The Night the Little Demons were Born” dating to 1985 bespeak the X-Files lore of Hanford and its plutonium by-products, technically called radionuclides.
For the Richland and Tri-Cities stakeholders perpetuating the history and the uneven narrative of Hanford and the massive clean-up effort and contamination zone that “made” the Tri-Cities one of the fastest growth areas of the country, this is a time of looking at the “positives” of supposedly winning the Cold War and facing down nuclear annihilation.
Thanks might go out to some of the players – the farmers and ranchers displaced in 1943, the 50,000 new inhabitants who broke ground, dug holes, laid cement and riveted, hammered and welded Hanford into existence. Most have moved on, died early deaths, or are silent reminders of science’s limitations.
To Be or Not to Be… a whistleblower
“We are the combination of Tom Bailie who grew up on a farm downwind from Hanford in Mesa. Me, who grew up in Richland as the kid of the nuclear culture. And, Jay Mullen, the kid of a military family on a base, in Idaho (Farragut Naval Training Station). Three very different childhoods, but we are tied together by the invisible tentacles of radiation discharged from Hanford.”
I spent hours with Jay Mullen, colorful, articulate, former CIA operative in Uganda and other African nations, and retired Southern Oregon University history professor. Talk about opening the proverbial Pandora’s box talking with him about how the two kids out of four who ended up at the Lake Pend Oreille base ended up with huge thyroid problems.
“My other siblings left in Missouri had no problems whatsoever. My sister’s thyroid was shot. I was a medical freak.” His father declared bankruptcy because the young Jay was paralyzed at age 19, out of the blue. He was a strapping rugby player who woke up paralyzed from the neck down. He ended up being directed to University of California-San Francisco.
“They never saw anything like this. I was studied as a freak, had my thyroid taken out, and life went on.”
His sister was the big ice cream and milk drinker, and she was hit harder by the iodine 131.
See Part 1, Nearly Nature, Nearly Perfect